Preventing Drug Use by Giving Dealers a Second Chance

Few drug dealers get rich working the street corners, and many can be turned from a life of crime if given an opportunity to do so, according to researcher David Kennedy.

Newsweek reported Feb. 9 that Kennedy has become an influential voice in the crime-prevention community because his approach to fighting drugs has had proven results. He has persuaded police departments to work with communities rather than acting like an occupying army. Most significantly, he endorses giving dealers a second chance by confronting them with evidence of their crimes but not prosecuting, a tactic that has helped engender community support and cut drug use and crime significantly in communities where it has been tried.

In High Point, N.C, for example, police won community trust by spreading the word that they would give young dealers a chance to reform but crack down hard if they didn’t take advantage. Within four years, most of the drug dealers were off the streets, and violent crime had fallen 57 percent. Kennedy’s tactics also have been employed successfully in Atlanta, Seattle, Nashville, and other cities.

Part of what Kennedy discovered is that a surprisingly small number of people are responsible for violence in communities, making for a manageable policing problem if the community is engaged.

“We’ve been in this cycle in which law enforcement pushed harder and harder and harder, which drives the community further and further away,” Kennedy said. “That creates additional space for the relatively few bad guys to operate, which makes law enforcement push harder and makes the community step further back. We’re in this spiral of decline, and the great revelation of the High Point work was that we can consciously step out of that spiral and, in fact, reverse it.”