Operation Hug-a-Thug disrupting drug markets
In an operation termed Hug-a-Thug (subscription required), police in High Point and Winston-Salem NC are trying to disrupt the local drug market by reforming non-violent dealers. From today's Wall Street Journal:
In May 2004, after accumulating evidence in the West End, police chief James Fealy invited 12 suspected dealers to a meeting at the police station, with a promise that they wouldn't be arrested that night. Encouraged by their "influentials," nine showed up.
In one room, they met with about 30 clergy, social workers and other community members who confronted them with the harm they were doing, implored them to stop dealing, and offered them help. The suspects, however, "were slouching in their seats and one guy even seemed to be dozing off," recalls Don Stevenson, pastor of a local congregation, the First Reformed United Church of Christ. "Their attitude was, 'This is just another program and it will blow over.'"
Then the alleged dealers moved to a second room where they encountered a phalanx of law-enforcement officials: police, a district attorney, an assistant U.S. attorney, and representatives of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and others. Around the room hung poster-size photos of crack houses that had been the dealers' headquarters. In front of each alleged dealer was a binder, laying out the evidence against him or her. There were even arrest warrants, lacking only the signature of a judge.
The law-enforcement officials made an ultimatum: stop dealing or go to jail. Several suspected dealers with violent records had already been arrested and were facing maximum charges. The same fate, officials emphasized, awaited anyone in the room who returned to dealing drugs. The district attorney promised to seek the maximum possible sentences, and the assistant U.S. attorney threatened to bring federal charges, which, he stressed, don't allow for parole. Police from surrounding areas warned them against trying to relocate operations, noting that their names were flagged on statewide law-enforcement computers.
According to the WSJ article, the West End street market closed "overnight." It makes for a great story and I sincerely hope that some of the dealers can get their lives turned around.
However, as the story notes, many buyers came to the West End from the suburbs. While the program may have disrupted the supply side of the West End market, the consumers likely shifted their purchases to a different area. Even if the police get to all of the dealers in an area, as long as the demand is there the effect will only be temporary. If there is money to be made the suppliers will find people to sell the drugs.