Responses to the Problem of Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes
Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding
of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem
and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider
possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing
your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of
research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply
to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses
to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on
reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing
several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom
effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to
considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else
in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police
better respond to it.
Because a drug market can become entrenched fairly quickly, budding drug
markets should not be ignored. Early intervention makes good use of scarce
police resources since entrenched drug markets are fertile ground for
other criminal activity.
General Considerations for an Effective Strategy
- Enlisting property owners' help in closing
a drug market. Drug dealing in apartment complexes exacts high
costs. Aside from the health costs associated with use and addiction,
and the physical risks to the safety of tenants, property managers and
dealers themselves, there are considerable financial costs to the property
owner. Consider using these costs to engage the property owner in tackling
Most apartment complexes where drug dealing occurs experience many other
problems as well, including high tenant turnover and vacancy rates;
vandalism or squatting in vacant apartments; increased calls to police;
increased police presence on the property; poor reputation of the complex
and the property management among neighbors, police and local realtors;
lower property values for the complex and for surrounding properties;
fear among law-abiding tenants (including fear of retribution); apathy
among law-abiding tenants if they perceive the property owner as ignoring
or encouraging the market; ceding of common space by lawabiding tenants
to those engaged in crime; isolation of lawabiding tenants who stay
indoors when dealing (and crimes associated with dealing) are more prevalent;
and illicit gun possession by those (sometimes juveniles) seeking to
protect themselves against dealers. The presence of drug-dealing tenants
in an apartment complex sometimes attracts other criminals as tenants,
because the drug dealing can mask their activities or provide them with
a ready market for their activities.
In addition, the property owner might incur these typical financial
|| Average cost if drug dealer simply stops
paying rent for one month
||Writ of Possession
||Loss of rent due to tenant turnover
||Labor costs of a painter
||General cleaning of apartment
||Cost to property owner (if there is no damage
to the apartment)
- Enforcing laws and agreements violated by
drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes. When selecting
responses, consider which specific laws and agreements are violated
by drug dealing in open or closed markets.
- Apartment complex rules: sometimes referred to
as "house rules" concerning visitors, noise, use of space,
- State laws: narcotics laws (trafficking, possession
and intoxication); alcohol laws; loitering and trespassing laws;
health codes; child welfare laws, including child endangerment (if
a child is in a dealer's apartment); elder abuse laws (if a dealer
is taking advantage of an older person and using his or her residence
to deal drugs); vandalism laws; harassment laws; nuisance
certain asset forfeiture laws.
- Federal laws: drug-free
school zone laws (when
the market is near a school); federal tax laws; certain asset
forfeiture laws; federal (and sometimes state) housing
voucher programs providing
disadvantaged tenants with apartments in private complexes subject
property owners to special conditions.
- Local laws: nuisance
laws; alcohol laws; health
codes; local building, fire and environmental code violations (especially
if dangerous drugs are chemically mixed in an apartment); dog leash
violations (if dangerous dogs are used to protect the market); business
or zoning laws regarding operation of an illegal business in a residential
- Legal conditions: probation and parole conditions
prohibiting visiting or mixing with other probationers or parolees,
such as often occurs in a drug market.
Police, fire, building, code
recreation, and planning departments in Ontario, California, met
to prioritize crime hot
spots there. The team conducted site visits
and met with apartment owners. They worked with renters "to
unite them in demanding better property management." They trained
apartment managers to find responsible renters, and informed owners
of their rights and responsibilities. Lowinterest loans were available
to owners who conformed to city codes; civil and criminal remedies
were reserved for those who did not. The team recruited city services
for cleanup and repair, as well as for creating recreation programs
for children. Property values increased in the target area and in
the surrounding areas. After the interventions, the target area
experienced significant declines in calls for city services (which
were now responded to through the joint efforts of city government
and property managers). Parts of the target area experienced up
to a 73 percent decrease in complaints to city agencies concerning
conditions and problems at the properties.4
Using What We Know From Research on Particular Strategies'
Appendix A outlines a wider range of possible responses to drug dealing
in apartment complexes than is presented here. Here we discuss only those
responses that have been evaluated through research. It will be evident
that some of those most used by police have more limited effectiveness
than previously thought.
- Applying intensive police enforcement.
Research suggests that intensive police enforcement at drug hot spots, sometimes referred to as "sweeps" or "crackdowns,"
has an impact on some buyers, particularly those who want to buy only
at markets where the risk of arrest is low. However, intensive enforcement
alone can have other, perhaps unintended, consequences. These include
alienation of lawabiding community members stopped and questioned, and displacement of drug dealing indoors, thus making it more resistant
to police interventions. In addition, because intensive police enforcement
is by its very nature temporary, the impact is often only short-term
and dependent on the resiliency of the market and the buyers.
Use of this tactic may also give law-abiding tenants and the property
owner the unrealistic notion that a drug market is solely a police problem.
Some officers have argued that intensive enforcement shows the community
that the police care about the problem; however, some of the unintended
effects may, in fact, have the opposite result.
- Arresting dealers and buyers. Arrest
is effective if local courts are willing to impose meaningful sentences
on dealers and buyers. This often depends on jail and prison overcrowding
and on the number of prior convictions of an arrestee. In many cases,
the courts allow those arrested for selling drugs to plead to lesser
offenses, or release them on bail between arrest and trial or arrest
and plea-bargaining. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of filed
criminal cases nationwide result in plea-bargaining. Appendix B provides
more details about drugs and the criminal justice system.
- Increasing place guardianship.
Research suggests that improved place management can block opportunities
for certain crimes, such as drug dealing. Ways to increase place guardianship
If the owner's profits from the property are so low that it is financially
impossible for the owner to wait to find a screened tenant, then applying
pressure to the owner will not help. In such a case, consider leveraging
a small amount of community investment funds to give the owner the economic
ability to screen potential tenants and improve security at the complex.
- showing the owner the financial costs of having a drug market
on the property,
- engaging the mortgage bank that holds the loan on the property,
- outlining the physical risks to the owner,
- providing training for the landlord, and
- engaging tenants or neighbors in information-gathering and market
- Making physical changes at the property.
Limiting access may deter some buyers because it increases
their effort in purchasing drugs, but limiting access may also deter
the police from entering the property. Limiting escape routes can increase
buyers' and dealers' risk of getting caught. As for lighting, dealers
may prefer it to be good so that they can better see their customers
and the police. Good lighting also reduces the risk that the dealer
will get robbed, because it increases the probability of the dealer's
identifying the robber.
- Sending notification letters to, and meeting
with, property owners concerning drug dealing. In a San Diego
study, notification letters from police to property owners, coupled
with meetings between police and property owners, increased the
probability that dealers would be evicted. This also reduced crime at
the rental properties as much as 60 percent compared with sites that
received no follow-up intervention involving a meeting.5
Police agencies should follow up regularly with those property owners
who only reluctantly improve management practices. Police should monitor
calls for service at the properties to detect any resurgence of illegal
activity, and should document every interaction with the property owners
in writing. Notification letters often list consequences for inaction,
including abatement, which is described next.
- Applying civil remedies, including abatement proceedings. Different types of civil remedies can be used
to deal with properties sheltering drug markets, including temporary
injunctive relief, temporary seizure of premises, permanent seizure
of premises, and monetary damages. The district
attorney, the police
or private citizens can sue in civil court for abatement and/or for
financial restitution for the harmed parties.6
- Evicting drug dealers. The Milwaukee
Police Department sought out evicted drug dealers in their new homes
to determine if eviction simply displaced dealing to a new area. They
found that less than 20 percent of those who were not in jail or prison
were still in the drug trade, indicating that displacement levels were
- Offering drug treatment. Research
indicates that there are different ways to offer drug treatment, and
that the varying models also vary in effectiveness.
Officers should try to arrange for chronic users to enter court-ordered,
monitored drug treatment to begin lessening their reliance on particular
markets. The fewer the chronic users, the more vulnerable the market
is to police intervention, such as buy-and-bust operations. This is
because recreational users are more likely to have jobs and, as a result,
want to avoid the risk of arrest, since it might impact their employment.
- The information model. Sharing information about drug
treatment with users (verbally, through handouts or posters, or
by providing phone numbers of referral services) does not appear
to be highly effective.
- The proactive model. Involving drug outreach workers
at the site as part of a multiagency response to problems can be
- The incentive model. Coerced court-based referral, as
part of the conditions of probation or sentencing, is effective
if coupled with drug-use monitoring and screening.9
Taking Account of Displacement
There is evidence that if displacement occurs, it is not one-for-one.
In other words, displacement may be only partial, not enough to cancel
the benefits of the countermeasures because the displaced criminal activity
lessens and is, as a result, more manageable for the police and community
Displacement indoors. Intensive enforcement alone can
displace an open market indoors. Driving a market indoors negatively impacts
it, decreasing its customer base because it must rely on word of mouth
for advertisement, rather than visual cues. Also, an indoor market is
less convenient to buyers (they must park, not just stop momentarily),
and buyers may feel less safe, as they now have to enter dealers' homes.
However, residents of an apartment complex may not find this a complete
solution. Property management must improve to rid the complex of the market.
Displacement nearby. If property management becomes
effective, an apartment-complex drug market must close down or move. A
review of the displacement literature suggests that there may be ways
to minimize nearby displacement.
- Open-market dealers have what is referred to as "high place
attachment." They rely on the natural and established routine of
foot and car traffic to supply a high volume of buyers. It is high risk
for dealers to set up shop in unfamiliar territory; doing so can lead
to inter-turf drug warfare, so nearby complexes or other nearby areas
with low levels of property guardianship are most at risk for displacement.
- Displacement nearby should be expected since it allows the market
to keep most of its customers. Developing a thorough understanding of
the reasons the drug market succeeded in the apartment complex can shed
light on the conditions that must be changed nearby, especially in nearby
complexes, to avert potential displacement.