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Combating the Local Drug Distribution in Missouri

In times of the raging opioid epidemic and increased recreational drug use, the local police departments need more money and manpower to address the rising challenge. Although young people in Missouri tend to avoid binge drinking, cigarette, and alcohol use, the illicit drug abuse of marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, and meth has increased between 2009 and 2017 (Harris House, 2019). Missourians successfully passed Amendment 2, making the medical use of cannabis legal back in 2018. As Lofton (2019) points out, easily available marijuana without proper law enforcement in place may lead to skyrocketing use of more dangerous narcotics and high financial costs for the state. Drug legalization provided offenders with additional loopholes, while officers are currently outnumbered and possess limited tools to eliminate the street drug market.

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Thus, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department should apply for a Federally Funded Grant, for the funds to be used towards eliminating the street drug markets in the local community. This will significantly benefit the local community by providing safer neighborhoods and decreasing the local crime rate within the community. It will also give the sheriff’s department the funding needed to create a surveillance and take-down task force team to gather information on the community’s drug markets. Doing this will provide the information and evidence required by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department to eliminate the drug markets in the area and ultimately decrease the crime rate due to drug addiction within the community.

To start with, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department lacks officers and needed resources. For that reason, the funding opportunities offered by the Department of Justice should be seized by the agency to enhance the public safety experience. An application for a Federally Funded Grant for the comprehensive deterrence program seems to be the most viable solution at the moment. It would be beneficial for the state, local authority, and the whole community. The investment incurred in local law enforcement is expected to provide safer neighborhoods by decreasing the crime rate associated with drug abuse. A new drug deterrence approach will decrease local numbers of larceny theft, violent crimes, property crimes, and driving under the influence. Today police are struggling to deal with the consequences of marijuana legalization and the opioid crisis. Still, a Federally Funded Grant will make it possible to target the reason behind it (illegal drug markets).

In terms of the local police department, the funding is necessary to establish a take-down task force team and surveillance system to monitor and gather intel on the local drug markets. This comprehensive approach must incorporate both soft and hard power to ensure local citizens’ collaboration and involvement. As James Deater highlights, most overdose victims buy drugs, overdose, go to an emergency room, and then again buy medications from the same dealer (Stelter, 2018). The victim’s cell phone data (messages, photos, calls) can be downloaded and analyzed. Although it is not a popular tactic, putting surveillance on such victims usually cuts investigation time, identifies dealers, and even prevents consecutive overdose. Instead of putting physical surveillance, electronic options can also be applied by tracking the victim’s phone. Thus, funding is needed both to expand the department’s staff and acquire the required technology.

Intervention is needed as medical drug legalization brought several challenges to the forefront. Lofton (2019) notes that the main issues are “doctor shopping,” lack of funding and police officers to conduct surveillance, illegal growing at home, and the Amendment itself (the Plain View Doctrine). Cannabis is a gateway drug that sees drug abusers gradually progressing to more dangerous and hard substances like fentanyl, heroin, and meth. The recreational use of easily accessible prescription marijuana often results in robberies, violent crimes, and other unlawful acts. Without proper law enforcement, Missouri’s financial costs will likely exceed the anticipated state revenue from medical cannabis circulation due to inhaled criminal rates and illegal street markets (Lofton, 2019). Monitoring of prescriptions and the seed-to-sale program of licensing are among practical solutions.

To be effective, the deterrence strategy should be comprehensive and well-designed. Frabutt, Shelton, Di Luca, Harvey, and Hefner (2009) proved that focused deterrence is a promising approach that combats drug-dealing in open-air markets. The outcomes of drug market interventions (DMIs) conducted in three cities in North Carolina and Tennessee highlighted the effectiveness of a deterrence-based, pulling-levers framework. For instance, High Point DMI resulted in an 8% drop in violence among treatment groups, whereas the compared census groups saw an increase in violence (National Institute of Justice, 2014). The Nashville DMI caused the narcotic offenses rate to drop by 56% during the next 26 months (Braga, Weisburd, & Turchan, 2019). The rate of most serious crimes (UCR Part 1) has also decreased by 4% in the targeted group, 20% in the adjoining area, and 3% in the entire city. Although the reduction in violent crimes is not significant, similar interventions usually lead to positive outcomes and are worth the effort.

The DMI should be a multidimensional and partnership-based project that balances enforcement powers (prosecution, arrests) and soft power. The latter measures include informing on possible law enforcement sanctions (notification), informal social control, support, and help to those who want to change their behavior. Deep and transparent collaboration is needed between the department and the entire community to enhance social control. Family members and community figures are expected to encourage drug dealers to stop their illegal and socially detrimental activities. In their turn, the entire department conducts an in-depth undercover investigation, puts surveillance on victims, and contacts such individuals’ families. Frabutt et al. (2009) found that stakeholders were encouraged to join the project because of the task force’s considerable contribution to the violence reduction in the community. Focus group participants revealed that such projects contribute to decreased drug dealing, quality of life offenses, and violent crime rates. The collaboration between police and community deters potential criminal behavior and simultaneously eases intel gathering. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department can successfully implement a similar structure with some adjustments.

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On the contrary, some modern researchers criticize the deterrence approach based on hard power. For instance, Hoss (2020) insists that decriminalization is the best strategy to reduce the crime rates associated with substance use disorder. The current criminal law framework is not sufficient because it fails to address the grassroots reasons, leading to excessive imprisonment that raises federal costs. The high state drug imprisonment rate does not significantly deter drug use and crime, whereas many lower-level offenders behind bars could be rehabilitated instead. As Hoss (2020) explains, criminalization (high incarceration) leads to intergenerational trauma that causes the next generation to repeat their parents’ mistakes. Nevertheless, decriminalization is proved to increase the number of people who consider drug use normal.

To conclude, the legalization of medical marijuana is a challenging step for the state and its citizens. A special program that requires a task force and surveillance staff can be a great solution to the possible drug-related problems. Although well-defined and comprehensive strategies to combat the local drug distribution are effective, they require significant funding and workforce, including the community’s involvement. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department should receive a Federally Funded Grant to organize a DMI similar to that held in Nashville or High Point. This drug elimination strategy will help provide safer neighborhoods and decrease the local crime rate within the community.

References

Braga, A. A., Weisburd, D., & Turchan, B. (2019). Focused deterrence strategies effects on crime: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 15(3), 1-65. Web.

Frabutt, J. M., Shelton, T. L., Di Luca, K. L., Harvey, L. K., & Hefner, M. K. (2009). A collaborative approach to eliminating street drug markets through focused deterrence. 

Harris House. (2019). Missouri drug statistics point to increased use by college-aged people.

Hoss, A. (2020). Decriminalization as substance use disorder prevention. University of Toledo Law Review, 51(3), 477–490.

Lofton, J. (2019). Law enforcement problems associated with medical marijuana legalization: A Missouri perspective. Missouri Medicine, 116(4), 265–269.

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National Institute of Justice. (2014). Program Profile: High Point drug market intervention. Web.

Stelter, L. (2018). Three surveillance tactics to find and stop opioid dealers. Police1. 

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