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Drug Trends in Our Neighborhoods

As with most big cities, Washington, DC has experienced the negative impacts that the illegal drug trade can bring to communities. Drug sales can take many forms, some more obvious than others. As a resident, you may notice some aspects of the illegal drug trade, but other signs are not as immediately apparent.

Street Corner Drug Sales

drug transaction on the streetThe lowest end of the drug trade involves street corner drug transactions. These are often areas where drug dealers and their buyers congregate. They also tend to be the areas known to be frequented by substance abusers. Because these activities can lead to other types of crime, such as burglary, street robberies, assaults, and sometimes homicide (often between rival drug dealers over turf or failed drug deals), it is imperative that they be addressed before the activity becomes entrenched. To effectively combat the problem, police rely on observant citizens to report suspicious activity when they see it.

Business Front Drug Sales

Some illegal drug sales occur through businesses and storefronts. The proprietors of these businesses may have a criminal history and support the drug trafficking industry either directly or indirectly by providing a haven for the transactions away from public view. While most business owners are good, hard-working folks trying to earn a living, they can become victims of local drug dealers and inadvertently engaged in the illegal activity. Some businesses become dependent on foot traffic generated by the drug trade.

Who Sells Drugs in Our Communities?

There are three main types of sellers in the United States when it comes to illegal drugs. These groups can be defined by the complexity of the organization and the degree to which they are

  • Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.
  • Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail level and midlevel.
  • Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation
    • Neighborhood-based street gangs, or local "crews" are the principal retail illicit drug distributors in the District, particularly for crack cocaine and heroin.
    • Street-level dealers are now distributing MDMA in addition to powder and crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and PCP at various open-air drug markets.
    • Gang activity remains a principal public safety concern in some areas of the region, primarily because of drug-related gang violence.

Negative Effects of Drug Sales and Activity

Images of disorder and disrepairDrug sales can often draw other illegal activity to an area, such as prostitution, and vice versa. Each vice can facilitate more criminal activity and draw in those at risk or vulnerable, such as youth. When a student becomes truant, he or she may be further influenced by these negative behaviors and join "the life" or become crime victims themselves.

Neighborhoods where there has been substantial disinvestment may become run down and appear uncared for and abandoned. This or can lead to quality of life issues, such as abandoned vehicles or homes, excessive and uncollected trash, non-working streetlights, vandalism and graffiti. If it looks like the people in a neighborhood don't care about its appearance or well-being, criminals will feel more comfortable to set up shop.


Drug Arrests in Our Communities

In just two years -- 2009 and 2010, law enforcement agencies made nearly 20,000 arrests for narcotic drug law offenses, representing 19 percent of the total arrests for all offenses throughout the city. The most common drug-related arrest was for posession, distribution, or possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, accounting for 8,884 arrests. Other drugs with high arrest rates in the last two years include cocaine (4,957), heroin (1,901), and PCP (1,021).

For more information on the success MPD is having in disrupting or eliminating the drug trade in your neighborhood, see How MPD is Addressing the Drug Trade.