Sunday, August 19, 2012

New Anti-Drug Initiative Headed for East Austin faces Skeptics

A new anti-drug initiative that has been successful in other cities is on the docket to be tried by the Austin Police Department in East Austin, but many residents are skeptical it will work.  Statesman.com reports on this program that pairs rehabiliation with enforcement and what it might mean for current the current drug hub at Chicon and 12th Streets.

The program is a "drug market intervention strategy" and has seen success in over 12 cities across the U.S. getting rid of outdoor drug dealing magnets like the one at 12th and Chicon. That location has long been bothered by marijuana and cocaine sales that occur throughout the day and night.  This also causes prostitution, stealing and sometimes violence, that has driven neighbors in the area to come together and insist that APD end the crime in their neighborhood.

The program has several steps, but basically consists of police utilizing statistics to find the high-crime drug market areas and then investigate to find the highest volume drug dealers.  The drug sellers who are commiting the most violent crime and causing the most danger are prosecuted and given severe sentences.  At the same time, police ask low-level offenders to have an intervention with authorities, neighborhood leaders and their families where they are shown how their crimes hurt those around them and offered help to change their behavior.  Police also tells offenders that they will be prosecuted harshly if they commit crimes again.

The program was created nearly 20 years ago by David Kennedy, who is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.  It caught the eye of a former Austin Police Officer when he became a police chief in High Point, N.C.  All his experience in Austin had shown him that as soon as police presence left an area, the drug crime returned.  In High Point, within the first 100 days of the program's start, crime dropped in the targeted neighborhood by 57 percent and has not increased in the past six years.  The outdoor sales also have not returned.

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