Displace or die

OK, did that get your attention?

Occasionally, I hear that our crime prevention efforts just “move the problem around.” Even the Journal recently quoted an otherwise thoughtful person who hadn’t “seen the tangible effects” of block clubs, particularly lamenting the effect of displacing the problem of drug dealing.

I can’t blame the Journal for not examining the issue — the story wasn’t about displacement.

But this one is. Let’s talk frankly about “moving the problem around.” Not only is it acceptable, I’ll tell you why you should embrace displacement. If I were to design a flag for crime prevention, I might even emboss the motto: “Displace or Die.”

Ask yourself, when drugs infest your block, what are your

1. Live with problem. 2. Solve problem. 3. Move away from problem. 4. Move problem away.

Forget No. 1. Unless you’re an addict, you don’t want that problem anywhere near you.

(Re No. 2: Solve it?) If you’re a chemical-dependency expert trained in turning addicts’ lives around, or think you can get dealers to learn a new trade … then knock yourself out. But when you’re off the clock, I doubt you’ll want neighbors bothering you for professional advice any more than doctors do. If you really want to solve the problem one person at a time, an arrest is the most effective first step in nudging addicts into treatment. What, do you think drug abusers wake up one day and pencil into their Franklin Covey Planner: “10 a.m. — Check into Hazelden?” Get real — and get them arrested.

(How about No. 3? Move away?) Sure, for you in the West Lake of the Moneyed Shorelines Neighborhood, pull up stakes. But before you un-foreclose that quad home on a cul-de-sac in Hambone Lake Township Unincorporated, ask that county’s sheriff, “Any meth labs near the (allegedly) better schools I’ll be sending my kids to?”

No, for (Neighborhood Revitalization Program) NRP-diagnosed “Redirection” neighborhoods, displacement is the only clear option. And given the facts, it’s the best solution no matter where you live. Here’s why:

First, crackmongers have no right to deal anywhere. So put your public safety tax dollars to work and move them out. “Brown” can’t do this for you, but your neighborhood’s Community Response Team can order up one Displacement-R-Us Moving Van with a full tank of gas and a basket of flex-cuffs.

Second: So you think block clubs just move drugs to the next block. Unless you’re best buds with the dopers, how can you know? Get the facts, and you’ll find out that’s not very common. Time and again, Minneapolis neighborhoods have proven that most dealers move at least several blocks, and the effects of their business are greatly diminished in the process. How did these neighborhoods do it? By organizing their blocks.

Third: At the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) we often fall for the old saw, “We can’t arrest our way out of crime.” But this assumes that offenders can’t change their ways. The facts show that up to half of those the MPD arrests in one week won’t get arrested again that year. Most of that half will never offend in Minneapolis again. So here are some real tangible effects: Most people learn their lesson by the third time they’re arrested for anything.

Fourth: Still worried where our Southwest knuckleheads will land after the smoke from the Avon Rounds dissipates? I direct you to a book that should be mandatory reading for crime watch volunteers: “Crime and Everyday Life” by Marcus Felson quantifies the benefits of keeping career criminals on the move. You’ll also learn how civil measures (such as liquor and rental licensing) can reduce and prevent crime, which is better than displacement.

Displacement was a huge concern to the Lyndale neighborhood in the early 1990s. In the spring of 1994, about half of the neighborhood was chosen by the 5th Precinct as part of a S.T.E.P. (Strategic Tactical Enforcement Program) project area. For two months, we had near-saturation patrol, targeted enforcement against identified drug properties, and aggressive follow-through with the owners of those properties. In sum, Whittierites, Phillipians and even Lind-Bohankers had less to fear from our displacement of errant Lyndalliennes than they thought. The idea of committing crimes in the first place was displaced from most of the criminals’ heads, not their criminal behavior.

Perhaps these career criminals moved back to their hometowns and kept dealing or buying controlled substances. So what? As Felson might put it, “If they’re that devoted to their career, sooner or later they’ll have to hop on a raft and drift across the ocean, if enough neighborhoods keep displacing them.”

Although I wouldn’t wish them on New Orleans, I’d gladly displace all the drug dealers in Minneapolis onto a barge and send it down the Mississippi. Maybe they could learn the job skills to feed our completely legal American addiction and find work on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico?

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I contend that displacement, to any degree that it actually happens, is one of your best crime prevention tools.

Narcotics activity incontrovertibly leads to neighborhood-wide patterns of violent and property crimes, so cracking down on drug dealing is one of many steps you’ll need to take if you want to turn your neighborhood around.  And I repeat that getting dealers and users arrested is critical.

One reason my hackles rise when I hear "You’re just moving the problem around" is that, between the lines, they are accusing block club leaders of not caring for the addicts’ plight.

Let’s talk about that. At least one major nationwide drug counseling service encourages the police to arrest their clients: "Our people won’t accept that they need help from a higher power until they hit rock bottom. If it takes arresting them to get them to admit they can’t recover on their own, so be it." That’s a direct quote from a Salvation Army veteran.

In this era of "harm reduction models," displacement through arresting the participants in the drug trade more swiftly reduces the harm to the users than waiting for them to check into the drug treatment facility that is within walking distance of their market: Getting addicts in jail may prevent their being murdered in cross-fire; if a judge can influence them, court-ordered treatment might actually "take"; and new users may give up drugs before they are deeply addicted.

Here’s a true story to illustrate this. In the mid-1990’s I pulled up a report for a bank robbery in my district. I was surprised to see the name of a neighbor on my block as the arrested robber. Turned out it wasn’t my neighbor, but his father. This is what happened:

"Jim" called his son one day, asking to borrow $20. Junior replied, "Dad, you know you’ll just spend it on crack. Besides, Mom’s in the hospital, and you haven’t even visited her. Sorry Dad. No rock today." Jim had failed in several attempts in recovery programs. He decided the only way he could get straight was to get sent away for a very, very long time.

So he figured he’d rob a bank, and get caught. Jim went to the nearest bank he could find, filled out a deposit slip with the words, "This is a robbery, call the police." The teller looked at the note and, incredulous, yelled at him, "Get outta here!"  "No, call the police!" he said.  The teller summoned the manager, who looked at the note and equally flummoxed, yelled, "Get out." Jim stood his ground. So the manager called 911.

It was probably the least exciting bank robber arrest in history. There was only one problem. While waiting to be charged, his statement was reviewed by the prosecutor. Conclusion? "Because his intent was not to actually obtain money by force, but rather just to get arrested, we cannot charge him at this time." 

O. Henry ending notwithstanding, Jim knew there are actually 13 steps in a successful 12-step recovery. The unwritten Step 1 actually is, "Get caught." For the vast majority of addicts, families and friends wash their hands of them — and few neighbors are ready to set up interventions for dozens of strangers. "Admitting to a higher power" therefore usually begins with the crude but clear intervention by the state.

So you with the "move the problem around" crowd, read Marcus Felson’s "Crime and Everyday Life," where you’ll find more than enough to convince you — if you don’t have another agenda — that displacement of crime, criminals, and drugs is not an inherently evil thing but in fact is something to be perfected if you are to keep ahead of crime trends in your neighborhood. Further, there is so little one-for-one displacement of crimes/criminals that Felson even refers to it as the "Illusion of Displacement."

The other displacement you need to do doesn’t require busloads of arrests, but rather moving incompetent rental or business owners out of the neighborhood. Several Minneapolis rental properties with drug activity in the late 1990’s have been studied. Crime in a three-by-three block area around them accelerated once the owner bought the property and moved drug dealers in. For over a year following the license revocations, crime dropped in the study areas. Had displacement only pushed it to the next block, the number of reported crimes would have been the same before, during, and after the time of their ownership. 

Here, harm to the community was reduced, quantified by the drop in violent and property crimes after a strategic bust — and after getting the owners who cared to do better checking backgrounds of their applicants. The arrests precipitated the license revocation for these owners. As Felson puts it, "I’d rather enforce civil laws against 30 owners than the criminal code against 10,000 citizens."  It’s far more cost-effective and it too, has cascading benefits.

Those and other facts aside, I have another personal beef with the "Arntcha just moving the problem around?" gang. It’s implied that block clubs should work to prevent youths from entering the drug trade from the beginning. Never mind that the addicts often come from outside the neighborhood, and that dealers moved onto the block long after their personal problems bloomed into criminal careers. 

Yet at least for Lyndale, during our high crime years many volunteers actually were in the business of helping people with addictions, with those for whom society had stacked the deck against them through a degraded quality of education or discrimination in hiring, and even with those who had previous criminal histories. They knew that those trying to kick their habits weren’t being dealt any favors by letting drug dealing continue unimpeded in our streets.

Lyndale block club leaders had a competition with other Lyndaliennes who wanted to solve individuals’ drug problems in our community: Either way, whether we got the MPD to the drug house first and it was busted, or if they got there before the MPD and got the families into counseling and the addicts into treatment, we won.

You may want more drug treatment options provided by the county with your tax dollars, or by faith-based organizations and other non-profits with some of the tax-deductible donations you’ve made. That’s commendable. But if you are still hung up on the displacement canard, and refuse to drop a dime on drug activity, then, my friend, you are one of those strange people who believe in taxation without results. Put another way, you will have made up your bed, but the drug dealers will be lying in it. 

Luther Krueger lives in the Lyndale neighborhood and works as a crime prevention specialist for the MPD’s 1st Precinct. Read more about the “Displacement Illusion” online at www.southwestjournal.com.