Provide Appropriate Reports to Get Police to Respond Effectively to Drug Activity
During the summer months, you may notice an increase in drug activity at your site. Unemployed youth are out of school with more time to be idle. And if a significant percentage of your households consist of single parents who are working multiple jobs with kids being raised by themselves, your site may be more attractive to criminals.
As an owner or manager, you have strong incentives to stop drug dealing at your site. In addition to safety concerns for your staff and residents, not dealing with criminal activity can perpetuate increasing amounts of crime at your site. As crime increases, good residents will move out and problem households with a higher tolerance for crime will take their place, and crime will continue to increase.
As hard as you may be trying to get dealers arrested, your efforts may be meeting with little success. Clearing drug dealers out of your site for good may require more time, resources, and personnel than the police can afford to expend. Part of the problem may be the kind of information you are giving the police, says security consultant Timothy Vance.
To get police attention, Vance recommends that you provide detailed information to the police about how drug operations at your site happen, so they can more effectively deploy undercover and investigative officers. Giving them a head start can increase the likelihood that you will get police action on your site’s drug problems.
Why Police Help Is Hard to Get
Just telling the police that a drug-dealing operation exists at your site may not work. It is risky for the police to investigate drug dealing at a certain location without knowing specifically how the operation is being conducted, Vance says. They are vulnerable because their chief methods of gathering evidence against drug dealers are surveillance and undercover work.
The police don’t have enough manpower to watch every site 24 hours a day. And they prefer not to send police officers to a site to pose as drug buyers unless they know, for example, the types of drugs the dealers sell or the code words buyers use to get drugs.
A good way to increase your chances of police response to a drug complaint, and to help them get their investigation under way, is to give them a composite picture of the drug operation. To compile this information without risking your staff’s safety, Vance recommends that you:
Track reports of drug dealing. Tell your staff to record whatever information a source gives them. The more details the source can provide, the better. Vance says it’s best to have more than one source of information, since no one person can know all the details, and investigations based on multiple sources are often more reliable. From these various sources, someone from the management company can put together a composite story about the drug operation.
Don’t endanger anyone. Because confronting drug dealers is dangerous, leave undercover work to the police. Base your complaint on what residents and staff have told you about a drug operation. Never put your residents or staff at risk by sending them out to get more information.
Gather specific information. There are two situations in which you’ll need to give the police multiple reports about a single site:
> More than one drug location. Your community may have more than one drug-dealing location. By reporting on each location separately, you’ll make investigative work easier for the police, says Vance. This way, you can give precise details about what’s involved with each operation without creating confusion.
Suppose, for example, that crack cocaine is sold from Apartment #3E in one of your buildings, and heroin is sold in the stairwell between the third and fourth floors of that same building. You should complete two separate reports: one describing the operation in Apartment #3E, and another for the operation in the stairwell.
> More than one suspect. Your reports should include a description of each suspect involved with the drug dealing at each location. Suppose, for example, that the crack dealing in Apartment #3E involves two suspects. Describe the suspects operating out of Apartment #3E in your report on that particular operation. In a separate report, describe the suspect dealing heroin in the stairwell between the third and fourth floors of that same building.
Detailing Your Reports
According to Vance, you should give police the following information before they go to work at your site:
Give site/building details. Give the police some basic information about the size of the building and number of units on each floor. If you have a floor plan, include it in your report.
Name where the drugs are sold. Specify the location where the drug dealing occurs, such as a specific apartment, the second-floor hallway, or the lobby. Remember to give the police a separate report for each location.
Specify types of drugs. Tell the police what kinds of drugs are being sold, if you know. An undercover officer must know what to ask for when he or she goes to the site posing as a buyer. If the officer asks for the wrong drug, the undercover operation may fail and the officer could be in danger. Don’t guess about what kind of drug is involved if you’re not sure.
But if you are sure, provide as much detail as possible, Vance says. Suppose crack is being sold at the site. Dealers often sell the drug in vials with caps of a particular color—for example, green. If you give this detail to the police, an undercover officer will know to use the word “greens” when asking the dealer to sell him drugs.
Tell when dealers operate. The police need to know the busiest time of day when drugs are sold, so they can set up a surveillance or undercover operation. Be precise when providing times. If you say “24 hours a day,” the police would have to launch a round-the-clock stakeout to start their undercover work. But since they don’t have the resources to watch your site 24 hours a day, that answer might result in your site not getting the attention it needs from the police. If you think a drug-dealing operation is running all night, write down the busiest time for drug dealing, such as “8 p.m. to 2 a.m.”
Give details of apartment where drugs are being sold. If a particular apartment is used for drug dealing, give the police information about it so they can get a judge to issue a search warrant. Give them the name of the legal resident if the apartment is occupied, or tell them if the apartment is vacant. And tell them if anyone besides the drug dealers—such as children—lives in the apartment. The police department’s approach to a drug bust changes if innocent people will be in the line of fire, Vance says.
Describe dealers. Tell the police whether the suspected dealer lives at the site or just visits or trespasses. Also, describe what the suspect looks like, including anything distinctive about him or her such as unique clothing, jewelry, or an accent. Be as specific as possible. For example, you might observe that the dealer has a “super-short haircut,” or wears “five earrings in each ear,” or uses “purple sunglasses.” Give those details to the police so an undercover officer will recognize the suspect.
Indicate code words. Your residents or staff may have heard buyers use a certain code word or password before the drug sale begins or someone inside opens the door to an apartment. For instance, you or a resident may hear words such as “pink champagne” or “skipjack.” Any words you hear them say should be included in your report.
Explain method of sale. Describe how a drug sale takes place. Tell police where the dealers and buyers meet in the building, where they go afterwards, what they do when they get to their destination, and whether the buyers use drugs at the site or leave the building immediately after a purchase.
Describe typical customers. Undercover police officers must blend in with the drug operation’s usual buyers. Give the police a description of the types of people who are customers, so undercover officers will be better prepared to fit in with them.
Timothy Vance, Esq.: President, Housing Crime Consultants, Inc.; www.housingcrime.com.