Neighborhood – Sviridoff et al. (1992)

Study Reference:

Sviridoff, M., Sadd, S., Curtis, R., & Grinc, R. (1992). The neighborhood effects of street-level drug enforcement: Tactical narcotics teams in New York. New York: Vera Institute of Justice.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Neighborhoods; Focused; Proactive; Moderately Rigorous; No evidence of an effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This evaluation assesses the impact of Tactical Narcotics Teams (TNT) used by the New York City Police Department. This two-year study was launched in the summer of 1989.TNTs were generally composed of 110 officers, all operating in plain-clothes. Once in the field, TNT units relied heavily on “buy and bust” tactics, which were targeted primarily at outdoor street markets. TNTs generally spent 90 days in each target area, though for some areas the Department deemed a 60-day period sufficient, and in others the period was extended. No matter how long the enforcement period, TNTs were expected to return to previous target areas on scheduled “maintenance days.”

How was the intervention evaluated?

The research examined two Brooklyn South neighborhoods which were targets for TNT and, for comparison, a third non-TNT neighborhood with a comparable drug problem. Conditions and drug markets in these communities were documented during the 90 days before TNT operations, allowing information to be developed on the patterns of sale and use in the local drug markets, and on associated community attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions. Specifically, data collection techniques included a multi-wave household survey of community residents; an analysis of statistical records; and a variety of qualitative research techniques including street ethnography, in-depth panel interviews, and interviews with and observations of the police themselves.

What were the key findings?

TNT operations led to a large number of arrests for drug sales and possession, a substantial number of car seizures, and the confiscation of a considerable amount of drugs and money. In both study precincts, there appeared to be a general tightening of drug markets. Over a three-month period, search time (the time it took for undercover officers to make drug purchases) increased, and there was a drop in the proportion of successful drug purchase attempts. Department personnel reported that a substantial portion of drug trafficking had either ceased or had moved indoors during the enforcement period. In interviews with researchers, however, officers generally conceded that the effects of TNT on street-level drug markets were temporary. The TNT initiative did not appear to have a substantial effect on other types of crime in the target areas. Ethnographic data indicate that many arrested dealers were quickly replaced by other user-dealers. No clear conclusion could be drawn on displacement effects. Additionally, although street drug sellers and users quickly learned about the presence of TNT in their neighborhoods, community residents and leaders were far less knowledgeable. Most surveyed residents were aware that TNT had been assigned to their areas, but many of them knew little about the nature of the initiative. Community residents did not report seeing an impact of TNT on the quality of life in the target areas, and the initiative had little impact of public fear of crime.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

Despite having some effects on drug markets, the TNT program did not appear to reduce violent crime or improve citizen perceptions. The authors suggest that drug market crackdowns like TNT might be made more effective with increased community involvement and better integration of enforcement tactics into problem-solving at the precinct level.

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