Program Goals/Target Sites
The San Diego Drug Abatement Response Team (DART) in California was a program designed to reduce drug dealing at residential rental properties by encouraging improved property management practices. It leveraged the authority of civil law to pressure landlords into addressing problems at rental properties where drug problems had been identified.
San Diego DART targeted private rental properties that had been subjected to some form of drug enforcement. In more than half of the cases, this enforcement activity was a search warrant–based raid. Other actions included knock-and-talk events (police requested permission to search the premises for drugs); buy–bust events (an undercover office made a buy, which led to an arrest); parole searches; and Fourth Amendment waiver actions.
The targeted behaviors included increased evictions of drug offenders and reduced drug-related criminal activity. One hundred and twenty one properties were selected for this program. Most properties were owned by individuals or partnerships (94.9 percent), and most owners indicated that they could spend little or nothing to improve the property.
The program targeted landlords and attempted to motivate positive changes through the possibility of nuisance abatement, which is a civil process whereby a property owner is sued to resolve public nuisances (such as drug dealing or prostitution) at a property. A suit carries the possibility of a large fine or even the loss of the property. The legal process is expensive and time-consuming, which explains why this strategy was combined with others.
Some properties received letters from the DART. The letter informed them of the drug activity at the property and explained that the police would help them get rid of the drug dealers, if they wished. The letter also informed them that they could be sued under California law if they failed to remove the nuisance. Once the letter was sent, no further actions were taken by the police unless the property owner requested help.
A second group of properties also received a letter. This letter differed from that received by the first group: it emphasized the legal action the city of San Diego could take if the owners did not resolve the drug dealing problems at their property. The letter instructed owners to contact the police so that an interview could be scheduled; if the owner did not contact the police, the police followed up with them. At the scheduled meeting, the owner and police were joined by a member of the city’s Code of Compliance. They all inspected the property and developed a plan for mitigating drug activities.
Some properties were not contacted at all.
The program is grounded theoretically in routine activity theory. Through place-management improvements, the environment that was attractive to offenders is changed.
Crime at Rental Properties With Drug Problems
Eck and Wartell (1998) found that properties that received the full intervention (letter from police department, meeting with police and code enforcement, and threatened nuisance abatement) experienced a significant reduction in crime (60 percent) when compared to the control group. Over the entire 30 month period, the full intervention group had 1.85 crimes fewer than the average control group place, after pretreatment crimes were controlled. Properties that had received only the letter also had a reduction in crime, but this reduction was not statistically significant.
In all five of the 6-month periods after the intervention, both treatment groups had fewer crimes than the control group. The biggest declines occurred in the first 6 months after treatment.
Evictions of Drug Offenders
There were significantly more evictions for the full intervention group compared to control group. There were also more evictions for letter group compared to the control group, but the difference was not statistically significant.