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Use of Civil Remedies for Neighborhood Crime and Drug Abatement by Community Organizations

NCJ Number
Date Published
84 pages
A study of the extent, nature, and effectiveness of the use of civil remedies by community members and groups to reduce neighborhood violence, crime, drug use, and drug trafficking was conducted.
The study addressed four questions: (1) nature of the use of civil remedies in the pursuit of drug eradication, crime prevention, and neighborhood improvement; (2) extent to which civil remedies were reactive, preventive, or proactive; (3) effectiveness of different strategies in achieving their goals and objectives; and (4) promising approaches to the use of civil remedies for drug abatement. Data were obtained from a survey of community organizations and from telephone contacts with experts in the field. In general, two strategies were the most common forms of civil remedies, environmental changes and enforcement strategies. Environmental changes included neighborhood cleanups, demolition of abandoned property, and graffiti eradication. The most common environmental change directed specifically against drug dealing was the removal of pay phones used by dealers for drug transactions. Other specific changes involved improving street lighting, removing billboards, and installing speed bumps. Enforcement strategies relied on the use of State statutes, local ordinances, and building and health codes to abate crime, drug, and disorder problems. Houses harboring drug dealers and bars and liquor stores, often hot spots of illegal activities, were typical targets of enforcement efforts. When enforcement strategies failed, many community organizations took direct action by filing lawsuits against property owners or by forcing city prosecutors to do so. Most community organizations also lobbied for new ordinances and other regulations. The most common prevention strategy was to provide training and technical assistance to landlords and owners in tenant screening, tenant relations, management techniques, security, and crime prevention. Laws most frequently used in civil remedies were existing drug or nuisance abatement ordinances at the municipal level. Roles of neighborhood residents in the enforcement of civil remedies were to identify and document problems, keep pressure on appropriate authorities to resolve problems, and monitor the situation over time. The majority of community organizations reported success in their civil remedy strategies. Case studies of civil remedies used by four community organizations in Maryland, Wisconsin, California, and New York are presented. Survey instruments, examples of ordinances and statutes, and a list of organizations to contact for additional information are appended. 19 references and 6 tables

Date Published: January 1, 1996