Neighborhood – Saunders et al. (2017) [Flint, MI]

Study Reference:

Saunders, J., Robbins, M., & Ober, A. J. (2017). Moving from efficacy to effectiveness: Implementing the drug market intervention across multiple sites. Criminology & Public Policy16(3), 787-814.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Neighborhoods; Focused; Highly Proactive; Rigorous; No evidence of effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined the impact of a Drug Market Initiative (DMI) in Flint, Michigan beginning in 2010. The DMI is a focused deterrence program that sought to identify and disrupt overt drug markets. The DMI was intended to operate in five stages: 1) The planning stage, where police officers would identify drug markets and sellers in those markets 2) The targeting phase, where police would make undercover buys and build cases for prosecution against dealers who were deemed to be violent and dangerous (“A-listers”). 3) The community buy-in phase, where officers encouraged community members to take back their neighborhoods by showing disdain for drug dealing and notifying the police of suspicious behavior. 4) The “call-in” phase, where less dangerous offenders were invited to a public community meeting and threatened with prosecution if they continued engaging in drug offenses. 5) Finally, officers conducted post-call-in enforcement and community follow-up. The DMI in Flint targeted the Second Ward neighborhood, which was larger than one square mile and characterized by cocaine and heroin distribution.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Researchers used a synthetic control design to evaluate the impact of the intervention. This involved the identification and weighting of areas that did not receive the intervention to mimic as closely as possible the crime trends that would have occurred had the intervention not taken place. The authors measured the effect of the intervention relative to the synthetic controls on all crime incidents, as well as property, violent, and drug crime incidents for periods of three, six, nine, and twelve months after the intervention. The authors also measured the fidelity of the intervention across each of the planned implementation stages.

What were the key findings?

Most estimates suggested that crime increased following the intervention, however, there were no significant differences between the intervention neighborhood and control group across all crime types and follow-up periods. The intervention was considered to have low treatment fidelity during the targeting, community engagement, and follow-up phases. Officers used outstanding warrants to create their list of dealers and selected a very large target area. Additionally, community engagement efforts were not sustained and the DMI team was unable to follow through with deterrence threats to offenders who recidivated.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

It is not clear whether the intervention failed because of the strategies used or because of the poor implementation of many program elements. The authors note that the implementation of DMI is challenging, and the effectiveness of DMI efforts may be tied to the specifics of the implementation and the type of markets that are targeted. Nonetheless, caution should be used in drawing broad claims about the effectiveness of DMI efforts across problems and locations.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?