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Opening remarks.

Thank you for the invitation to join you here today. I am quite impressed by the program that Jim Peluso and the Albany Law Review has assembled, and I am very pleased to be a part of it.

The invitation to make some opening remarks came with a lot of latitude in the choice of topics, and perhaps I should hasten to give you the good news--I will not in the next twenty minutes recite any statistics about the scope and severity of the drug problem, the prevalence of drug use, the incidence of drug-related violence and predatory crime, and so forth. I will leave that to the other members of the panel. And I may also not even take as many as twenty minutes.

The bad news is that I may be just a bit autobiographical, as I would like to tell you about some research I became involved in about ten years or so ago. I was then on the faculty of Michigan State University, and my research generally tended to dwell--as it does presently--on policing. At about that time, the Narcotics Division of the Detroit Police Department (DPD) became interested in experimenting with intensive, geographically focused street-level enforcement, or "crackdowns." To their credit, they wanted to learn whether such a tactic worked in any respect other than generating arrests. With support from the National Institute of Justice, a colleague and I undertook an evaluation of the process and the outcomes of the Narcotics Division's effort.(1)

While I presume that I would be preaching to the choir here to enumerate the virtues of such experimentation, I should note that it is unfortunately uncommon for drug enforcement initiatives of this and other kinds to be evaluated in such a way. If they are evaluated at all, it is normally by compiling data on arrests, drug seizures, and so forth, and by making what are often fairly optimistic assumptions about the consequences that follow from those enforcement outputs. Impacts on drug use or availability, drug-related crime, or neighborhood conditions are usually not treated as testable, empirical questions.(2)

The DPD's enforcement initiative and our evaluation focused on four areas in Detroit that together encompassed about eleven neighborhoods in all. We collected data on enforcement outputs in those areas: drug raids, arrests, and drug seizures. We observed the enforcement units at work in the field and we formally interviewed almost all of the officers in the Narcotics Division who performed street-level enforcement. We obtained data on reported crime in those areas, of course, and we also surveyed samples of the residents of those areas about their perceptions of their neighborhoods--especially, but not limited to, the use and sale of illicit drugs in the neighborhoods, their fear of crime, and their quality of life more generally.

We also conducted focus-group style interviews with people who were active in neighborhood groups, and who were knowledgeable about the problems in the neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods were not Detroit's worst, by any means, but they had at least moderately serious problems of several kinds. They were home to retail drug markets, and that is why the DPD Narcotics Division wanted to focus on them. At the time, most of those markets were crack markets. Crack arrived in Detroit around 1986 or so, and, in 1990, when the DPD's crackdowns commenced, the markets remained fairly unstable and violent, even though the preponderance of crack sales were made not in open-air markets, as they were in many other cities, but from crack houses. (There was ample vacant and abandoned housing in Detroit at the time--as the population of Detroit was only about hall of what it had been twenty years before--and the cheap housing lent itself to the crack trade.) Furthermore, those four areas of Detroit suffered from a number of other economic and social problems. My research had taken me into economically disadvantaged, socially disorganized, and physically dilapidated neighborhoods before that, but when it had, I was in the company of uniformed police officers, and I had not previously spent so much time talking directly with the residents as I did in our focus-group interviews.

In a way that no statistics possibly could show, my contacts with the people in those Detroit neighborhoods conveyed to me the very real and human dimensions of the drug problem, at least in inner-city America. I heard about the devastating effects of drug use on individuals and their families. I heard about and saw the disorder and public nuisances associated with retail drug markets. I heard about the climate of fear to which the drug markets and related disorder gave rise--the fear of violence, fear of break-ins, fear of being harassed on the street, and fear that one's children would get involved in drugs or the drug trade.(3)

I also heard about the concern and the frustration of residents. They were not without compassion for people who abused drugs. Many of them had relatives, friends or neighbors who at the time abused drugs or formerly abused drugs. But they were also frustrated by the condition of their neighborhoods, and by their inability and the inability of their government to ameliorate the problems there. They clearly wanted a better life for themselves and for their children.

They did not, for the most part, disclaim responsibility for addressing the problems there, but in many neighborhoods the residents did not see, and could not envision, steps that they could take to address the problems. One very remarkable community group, which enjoyed some equally remarkable indigenous leadership, was able to identify and take steps to address drug and drug-related problems in their neighborhood, and they achieved what was, at least by comparison with the other neighborhoods, a rather high level of collective activity. On the whole, however, the story in these neighborhoods was similar to that of other community anti-drug and crime prevention efforts, which confront tall hurdles in mobilizing community resources and sustaining a level of collective action. The effects tend to be modest, at best, and short-lived.(4)

As a social scientist I prize rigorous and systematic evidence, rather than anecdotal evidence. Even so, what I saw and heard anecdotally in those Detroit neighborhoods was valuable to me, for it infused the themes in the literature on drug control with some very concrete and intensely human elements. The literature makes it clear that drug use and drug control is an immensely complex problem, which is not amenable to simple solutions. The lives of the people with whom I spoke made it clear that the problem calls for dispassionate analysis undertaken with a passionate sense of urgency.

Drug abuse has profoundly detrimental effects on users and those close to them. And in a welfare state, some of the costs are borne by the public, not only by the individuals and their families. But some elements of the drug problem stem not so much, or at all, from drug use itself as from out efforts to control and prevent drug use.(5) We probably should not mistake the side-effects of the remedy for the symptoms of the illness.

I will mention a few side-effects. First, the mere regulation of drug use poses thorny conflicts between collective interests on the one hand and individual liberty on the other hand.(6) Second, the prohibition of drug use is a regulatory mechanism that occasions a rather acute form of the tension between procedural limitations on state power and state efforts to detect and prosecute criminal behavior.(7) Third, prohibition raises the price of drugs, quite purposefully, and with it raises the prospects that some users, to a greater extent, will find through predatory crime the wherewithal to pay the price. Fourth, the externalities of retail drug markets--the violence, the disorder, and the "incivilities," as we have taken to calling them--are primarily a result of their illicit nature and not of the psycho-pharmacological effects of the drugs that are sold.

From these observations it does not logically follow, in my view, that part of the solution is to do away with prohibitions. But it is clear that efforts to address some elements of the problem can have adverse impacts on other elements of the problem. Furthermore, it is difficult and expensive to measure the effects of policy and programmatic interventions--enforcement, treatment, preventive education--and to assess their social benefits. Consequently, we typically lack important information in allocating resources and in designing, and refining, the instruments of public policy. We are unable to learn as much as we need to learn from out experiences with policy interventions. This arises in assessing new initiatives, such as Weed and Seed, Combat--a program in New York State a while back DARE, and so forth. It also arises in assessing the status quo, for while I sometimes hear that our current policy is obviously a failure, there is nothing obvious to me about that. That people use illicit drugs is hardly evidence of policy failure; the prevalence or cost of drug abuse might well be higher or lower under different policy regimes.

The challenge of understanding this problem and formulating effective policy is further complicated by the symbolism that the issue evokes. Policy is not merely utilitarian, but also expressive of fundamental social values, and at least partly as a consequence, rational goal-directed analysis does not always mark the public debate. This symbolism probably encourages a more punitive approach, which serves a symbolic function in reaffirming social values.(8) Such an approach is not, however, one that is necessarily effective in more instrumental terms. From a more utilitarian perspective, it might make more sense to couple the criminal sanction more tightly to treatment and other elements of a harm reduction approach.(9) Insofar as drug courts effect such connections, they appear to me as a hopeful sign of progress.

It is not my task, I am relieved to say, to try today to sort through these issues. The presentations on this program today will address some of these complexities and they promise, I think, to provide the basis for a somewhat deeper understanding of both the normative and the empirical questions that the drug problem raises. Occasions such as these are valuable for exchanging and publicizing the products of our inquiries into these issues. It is gratifying for me to see the energies of such talented and distinguished people, as those on this panel, devoted to advancing our understanding of this problem, and as well, to see so many of you here to listen to, and perhaps to challenge, what they have to say. In any event, I wish you a very productive and interesting afternoon.

(1) See Timothy S. Bynum & Robert E. Worden, Police Drug Crackdowns: An Evaluation of Implementation and Effects 1 (Final Report submitted to the National Institute of Justice) (original manuscript on file with Albany Law Review).

(2) There are notable exceptions to this rule. See MARK A.R. KLEIMAN ET AL., U.S. DEP'T OF JUSTICE, STREET-LEVEL DRUG ENFORCEMENT: EXAMINING THE ISSUES 3-6 (1988) (discussing research focusing on a "crackdown" approach taken on retail heroin markets in Lynn, Massachusetts, a study which found an improvement in the quality of life, a reduction in heroin consumption, and a reduction in property and violent crimes); see also Lynn Zimmer, Proactive Policing Against Street-Level Drug Trafficking, 9 AM. J. POLICE 43, 52-55 (1990) (discussing research on a concentrated police effort conducted in the Lower East Side of New York City, which found a "decrease in the volume of ... drug traffic").

(3) See Bruce Johnson et al., Drug Abuse and the Inner City: Impact on Hard Drug Users and the Community, in 13 DRUGS & CRIME 9, 39-40 (Michael Tonry and James Q. Wilson eds., 1990) (noting that although most inner-city residents are not personally involved in drug dealing and drug use, they must "routinely confront hard-drug use and dealing in their neighborhoods and among their families, relatives, and friends"). See generally WESLEY G. SKOGAN, DISORDER AND DECLINE: CRIME AND THE SPIRAL OF DECAY IN AMERICAN NEIGHBORHOODS 29-32 (1990) (discussing how drug sale and use in neighborhoods produces fear of crime and violence, and produces fear among residents that their children will become involved in the drug trade).

(4) See Arthur Lurigio & Robert C. Davis, Taking the War on Drugs to the Street: The Perceptual Impact of Four Neighborhood Drug Programs, 38 CRIME & DELINQ. 522, 534-36 (1992) (noting that citizen-enacted anti-drug efforts changed residents' perceptions favorably, especially by reducing fear of crime; however, no conclusive results were reached regarding actual drug trade and drug-related arrests); see also SKOGAN, supra note 3, at 155-57 (concluding that community activism is likely to decline in the future, and formation of community groups to combat drug problems are likely to occur where they are needed the least, in predominantly middle-class neighborhoods); Dennis P. Rosenbaum, Community Crime Prevention: A Review and Synthesis of the Literature, 5 JUST. Q. 323, 360-63 (1988) (discussing the difficulties in "organizing and sustaining community interest" in programs such as neighborhood watches and citizen patrols, especially in low-income areas, where such programs are needed the most).

(5) See MARK A.R. KLEIMAN, AGAINST EXCESS: DRUG POLICY FOR RESULTS 69 (1991) (discussing how regulations and laws designed to prevent and punish drug use and sales may produce black markets, leading to violence and corruption). The author concluded that drug laws and policies have a unique set of negative side effects. See id. at 386. For example, "[t]axes create moonshining, regulation creates evasion and corruption, prohibition creates black markets, programs cost money and often create perverse incentives." Id.

(6) See JOHN KAPLAN, THE HARDEST DRUG: HEROIN AND PUBLIC POLICY 2-3, 189-95 (1983) (comparing the cost of heroin use and/or addiction to American society as including "amounts stolen by addicts to support their habits; the cost of apprehending, processing, and imprisoning those whose offenses arise from the use or sale of heroin; and the sums spent on the treatment of addicts" with the interest of the individual heroine user, including avoiding the criminal consequences of possessing heroin or related drug paraphernalia).

(7) See HERBERT L. PACKER, THE LIMITS OF THE CRIMINAL SANCTION 365 (1968) (noting the tension between the use of criminal sanctions to punish drug crimes and the protection of the individual values of privacy and autonomy); see also Mark H. Moore, Invisible Offenses: A Challenge to Minimally Intrusive Law Enforcement, in ABSCAM ETHICS: MORAL ISSUES AND DECEPTION IN LAW ENFORCEMENT 17, 17-18 (Gerald M. Caplan ed., 1983) (noting the need to balance an individuals right to privacy with society's interest in detecting and punishing criminal behavior).

(8) See STUART A. SCHEINGOLD, THE POLITICS OF LAW AND ORDER: STREET CRIME AND PUBLIC POLICY 226 (1984) (concluding that crime is a convenient symbol for the public; furthermore, the public perceives punitive responses as "necessary and sufficient" to the drug problem); see also DIANA R. GORDON, THE RETURN OF THE DANGEROUS CLASSES: DRUG PROHIBITION AND POLICY POLITICS 17-18 (1994) (discussing how ordinary citizens can find symbolic meaning in supporting prohibitions as a way to control drug use and related crime, as well as a way to improve the perception of a "threatened moral consensus"). See generally ELAINE B. SHARP, THE DILEMMA OF DRUG POLICY IN THE UNITED STATES 49-50 (1994) (discussing the symbolism inherent in politics regarding drug control, specifically, President Reagan's symbolic campaign against drugs without any funding for new programs to prevent or treat drug abuse).

(9) See M. Douglas Anglin et al., Pretreatment Characteristics and Treatment Performance of Legally Coerced Versus Voluntary Methadone Maintenance Admissions, 27 CRIMINOLOGY 537, 554 (1989) (noting that voluntary and coerced entrants into drug treatment programs made equivalent behavioral changes, and intervention programs which emphasize behavioral changes are particularly helpful for "a chronic and relapsing condition like heroin addiction"); see also KLEIMAN, supra note 5, at 189-90 (discussing how the potential benefit to society as a whole is increased when a criminal offender is compelled into treatment, however, such involuntary treatment as a form of social control is only effective if the treatment rules are enforced; providers must report violations to criminal-justice agencies, who must be willing to punish repeated violations).

Robert E. Worden, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Public Policy, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York. A.B., St. Lawrence University; M.A., Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These comments are based on the opening remarks given at the Albany Law Review Annual Symposium, Drug Crimes: Penal Jurisprudence in Punishment and Treatment, held at Albany Law School on November 12, 1999.
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Author:Worden, Robert E.
Publication:Albany Law Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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