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Program Profile: Kansas City (MO) Police Department Street Narcotics Unit

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 13, 2011

Program Summary

A special police unit developed to conduct raids of crack houses to reduce crack-related crime and improve public order in Kansas City, Missouri. The program is rated Promising. There were fewer calls for service and reported offenses for the experimental group. The Follow-up effects were sustained for both outcomes for about 2 weeks after the experiment ended.

Program Description

Program Goals

The rise of the crack epidemic in the late 1980s led to substantial increases in crack-related crime in U.S. cities, placing a large burden on law enforcement. It was reported that street blocks where drugs were sold had levels of crime and violence that were three to four times greater than other street blocks. This prompted many urban police departments to use intensive strategies to combat crack-related crime, one of which was raids of crack houses.

 

In Kansas City, MO, drug-related arrests more than tripled from 1,110 in 1988 to 3,806 in 1989. From 1988 to 1989, there was also an increase in the perception among citizens that crack houses were spreading in Kansas City. Pressure was placed on the Kansas City Police Department to address the problem and as a result, the department implemented the Street Narcotics Unit in 1989. The unit was employed specifically to raid crack houses on blocks with high levels of disorder and crime. The stated purpose of the unit was not to lock up drug offenders or even to substantially disrupt the drug market, but rather to improve public order by reducing crack-related crime in neighborhoods. The goal was also to provide short-term deterrence in blocks with high levels of disorder.

 

Target Sites

As crack houses are not legitimate establishments that all look the same or remain located in a single dwelling, it can be difficult to identify which sites are truly crack houses. Activity around a dwelling may be interpreted in different ways: citizens may perceive that an abandoned house with people loitering around it is a crack house, but this isn’t necessarily the case, just as some crack houses may be located in nice-looking houses and therefore do not arouse any suspicion. Crack houses on blocks with high levels of crime and disorder were therefore selected using a combination of citizen complaints to a hotline, reports of crime in the area, and police identification of sites.

 

Program Components

An undercover police officer or confidential informant (under the supervision of an undercover officer) would enter a suspected crack house and attempt to buy crack using marked bills. If the buy was successful, the drugs were impounded, and a search warrant was issued for the site. The warrant could then be issued within the subsequent 10 days.

 

To ensure that the correct house was raided, the undercover officer who participated in the buy would drive by with the tactical sergeant to confirm the location of the house before the warrant was executed. In some instances, a second undercover buy was conducted at the house.

 

To serve the warrant, a team of seven uniformed officers stormed the crack house using a great deal of force. They pulled up in a van outside the house, and several officers quickly broke down the door using a small metal battering ram. During this time, several other officers would go to all exits of the house to ensure that no one fled the house during the raid. Officers ordered all inhabitants to lie down on the floor, and they were all handcuffed.

 

Once all inhabitants were handcuffed, an extensive search of the house for drugs and weapons was executed. This search sometimes took several hours, and potential customers often came by in an attempt to procure drugs. After the search was completed and all drugs were seized, arrests were made and inhabitants were taken to the police station for questioning. They were also checked for outstanding warrants.

 

These raids were purposely made highly visible to people in the surrounding areas, with the intent of producing a short-term deterrent effect.  

 

Key Personnel

The Street Narcotics Unit is composed of about 20 to 40 officers of the Kansas City Police Department, including one captain and at least one sergeant.

 

Program Theory

The routine activities theory of crime proposes that crimes occur as a result of available opportunities. Crack houses provide many opportunities for a variety of troublesome behavior, including prostitution, loitering, drug disputes, romantic quarrels, and loud noise. These activities can occur in and around the crack house, creating disorder and crime in the immediate surrounding area. The idea behind the police crack house raids was to improve public order in blocks where crack houses were located; thus, the Street Narcotics Unit did not focus on the adverse effects of crack itself or crack drug sales, but rather on the detrimental microenvironmental impact that crack houses have on surrounding areas. 

 

The high visibility of police crack house raids was additionally designed to produce a deterrent effect on block-level crime and disorder. The idea was to increase the audience’s uncertainty about future police activity and to produce at least a short-term deterrent effect on nearby potential offenders.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1

Calls for Service

Sherman and Rogan (1995) studied the effectiveness of the Kansas City (MO) Police Department Street Narcotics Unit in decreasing disorder in the area around crack houses. When the pre- and postexperiment means were compared, the experimental group experienced an 18 percent decrease in overall calls for service, while the control group experienced a 10 percent decrease in calls for service.

 

For calls for service relating to violent crime, the experimental group experienced a 23 percent decline, while the control group had a 9 percent decline. Calls for service for property crimes declined by 39 percent for the experimental group and by 25 percent for the control group. Finally, the experimental group experienced a 10 percent decline in disorder crime calls for service, compared to a 5 percent decline for the control group.

 

Reported Offenses

When the pre- and postexperiment means were compared, the experimental group experienced a 24 percent decrease in reported offenses, while the control group experienced a 10 percent decrease in reported offenses after the raids. Reported offenses for violent crime decreased by 27 percent for the experimental group and by 3 percent for the control group. Reported offenses for property crime declined by 14 percent for the experimental group; they declined by 17 percent for the control group.

 

Follow-Up Effects

Effects on calls for service and reported offenses were sustained for about 2 weeks after the experiment ended.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Sherman and Rogan (1995) conducted a randomized trial of the Kansas City (MO) Police Department Street Narcotics Unit from November 1991 to May 1992. Two outcome measures were used: calls for service made by citizens and offense reports recorded by police. Calls for service were used to measure levels of public order in a block area, and offense reports were used to measure levels of serious crime in block areas. While there was some overlap in the two measures, they were analyzed separately, because not all calls for service led to offense reports, and not all offense reports were initiated by a call for service. Some offense reports were generated from calls for service, while others were generated from police-initiated contact.

 

Data was obtained from the Kansas City Police Department, and random assignment was done with the assistance of a research site manager. The sample was chosen from a pipeline of 1,421 attempted buys made by undercover officers. The final sample consisted of 207 cases total, with 103 in the control group receiving no raids and 104 in the experimental group selected to receive raids. Only 98 out of the 104 in the experimental group actually received raids; one actually received two raids and was excluded from the experiment.

 

To be eligible for inclusion in raids, sites were required to have had at least five calls for service in the 30 days prior to the undercover buy. Sites were also restricted to include only the inside of residences, including single-family homes (68 percent of the sample), multifamily houses (4 percent), and apartments (28 percent). The goal was to select residences that would be fully eligible for a search warrant, as determined by a Special Narcotics Unit officer.

 

Calls for service and reported offenses from the 30 days prior to the experiment (pre-experiment period) were compared with calls from the 30 days after the experiment ended (postexperiment period). These 30 days after the experiment were used as the follow-up period. Calls for service were looked at overall and broken down into violent, property, and disorder calls. Reported offenses were looked at overall and broken down by violent and property offenses. Disorder offenses were not included in reported offenses.

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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Officers on the Kansas City (MO) Police Department Street Narcotics Unit must be in top physical condition, and must be trained to use special raid tactics and weapons.

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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Sherman, Lawrence, and Dennis Rogan. 1995. “Deterrent Effects of Police Raids on Crack Houses: A Randomized, Controlled Experiment.” Justice Quarterly 12(4):755–81.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Sherman, Lawrence. 1990. “Police Crackdowns: Initial and Residual Deterrence.” Crime and Justice 12:1–48.
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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Hot Spots Policing
Used by many U.S. police departments, hot spots policing strategies focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated. The practice is rated Effective. The analysis suggests that hot spots policing efforts that rely on problem-oriented policing strategies generate larger crime reduction effects than those that apply traditional policing strategies in crime hot spots.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types



Street-Level Drug Law Enforcement
This practice includes targeted-policing approaches for reducing drug and drug-related offenses. This practice is rated Promising in reducing reported, drug-related calls for services and offenses against persons. This practice is rated No Effects in reducing reported property offenses, public order calls for service, and total offenses.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Drug and alcohol offenses
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Property offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Public order offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Crisis Intervention/Response, Community Crime Prevention , Hot Spots Policing

Targeted Population: Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Researcher:
Lawrence Sherman
Wolfson Professor of Criminology
University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge CB3 9DT
Phone: 44.0.1223.762094
Email