Gretta Bush and Bobby Davis of High Point Community Against Violence explain how the Drug Market Initiative offers a sustainable and effective strategy for ending violence associated with open air drug markets.
The following is a transcript of the interview:
ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi, this is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. And I'm in High Point, North Carolina, speaking with Gretta Bush, who is the president of High Point Community Against Violence. Ms. Bush has played an integral role in a program called the Drug Market Initiative, which is designed to close overt drug markets. Thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk to me.
GRETTA BUSH: You're more than welcome, glad to do it.
WOLF: What is the Drug Market Initiative?
BUSH: The Drug Market Initiative is an endeavor taken on by the citizens of High Point, along with the High Point Police Department, to deter drug buys, sales, violence in our community, to stop the drug initiative on the street.
WOLF: And it was initially started in the neighborhood called West End. Can you tell me what conditions were like there in 2003 before the Drug Market Initiative?
BUSH: Before the Drug Market Initiative, our West End was the hottest spot in High Point for anything negative that dealt with drug markets in the High Point area. Gun play, murders, assaults, domestic violence, prostitution, you name it, it went on. And it was our hottest area and the highest crime area for the High Point area. And it was identified for that reason.
WOLF: Who first told you about the Drug Market Initiative and what did you, as a citizen of High Point, think of the idea?
BUSH: We were approached as a group, somewhat semi-organized, trying to just tackle violence in High Point. We found out that drugs was the biggest entity that was a part of the violence that was occurring here in High Point and with the research and a gentleman coming to High Point to work with the High Point police department, Mr. Kennedy, we took a plan of action and worked with him to initiate this in the High Point area to see if it would work.
WOLF: So David Kennedy brought this idea to you? Could you tell me how it differs from the kind of old-fashioned or traditional police approach to drug dealing in a neighborhood?
BUSH: Well usually in a community where you have negative activities such as drugs, the police don’t ask the community for their help as far as confronting an individual.
In this particular case, working with the police department, we actually sit down with the police department. We actually sit down with the police, evaluate the situation, put a plan of action in place. The police department reaction to this is to the community: how can we better serve you? How can we better do what we do in our policing? And in turn we learn what the police do.
It's not just about putting handcuffs on someone and arresting them. It's research toward a solution toward the problem, to help make sure that the violent offenders are not going back to the street and we're continually working together to deter the negative drug activities going on in the High Point area as well as West End and the individual communities.
WOLF: One of the key features of the Drug Market Initiative is something called the “call-in.” Can you tell me what the call-in is?
BUSH: The call-in is a notification given to violent offenders in the community that are dealing drugs. They are identified and called-in by the chief to the station to meet with law enforcement and the community.
Once they're there and identified, we give them a spiel or a conversation about their activities and identify them, telling them that we do not want it to continue to happen and offer our services and our connection to resources in the community as an alternative.
The other spiel they are supposed to—what law enforcement would do if they do not change their way of life—so they have a choice that night to make a decision to either continue to sell drugs and eventually end up in jail, dead, or change their lifestyle to do something positive in the community.
WOLF: We're being joined now by Bobby Davis, who is a retired police officer and also a board member of High Point community Against Violence and thank you, Mr. Davis, for joining us.
BOBBY DAVIS: Yes, you're welcome. My pleasure.
WOLF: So what is it you actually say, Mr. Davis, when you're at the call-in and you stand up before these group of people who have been identified as troublemakers in the community, people who have broken the law, that are being offered a second chance? What do you say? What’s the message you send?
DAVIS: One of the things that I say, I let them know in the very beginning that they are human beings but just went a different way to the extent that they felt like they—it was in violation. And the reason we are there as it was fore stated that certainly we are there out of concern for them and to let them know that we are concerned and we—yes we do live in the neighborhood and you too can live a type of life, if once you decide you're gonna turn your life around, and if you do decide to do such, whatever reason or whatever can cause you to - or whatever your needs are, we are there to assist you in those needs.
And we try to stress that because—and we let them also know that certainly we are in partnership with the police department, as well, so if you do not choose to take our assistance, then so be it, law enforcement-wise.
WOLF: The program has been very successful, hasn't it? The Drug Market Initiative?
What difference has it made in the four neighborhoods in High Point where it has been applied? Initially in West End in 2003, and since then I understand it's been in three other neighborhoods. What changes have you seen in those neighborhoods after the Drug Market Initiative?
BUSH: We found out statistically-wise that the felons or the offenders are definitely not going from one community to another. They take the message.
We don't have a 100 percent turnover and a success rate, but we have at least a 50 to 75 percent success rate, so we know everybody's not always gonna hear and understand clearly what the alternatives are, but you also have to make believers out of some, so -
WOLF: So you're saying 50 to 75 percent of people actually get the message and stop… ?
BUSH: And stop.
WOLF: … dealing drugs? And another, and the other 25 to 50, maybe don’t and they end up going to jail?
BUSH: They end up in jail, and we've had several that have actually lost their lives, you know, after the notification because they continued in the drug market, and that violent life actually takes them out, so -
WOLF: And how has life in these neighborhoods changed as a result of this? I know in West End, you know, there was open-end overt drug markets and people on the street selling drugs, and prostitution. What is that neighborhood and other neighborhoods like now?
DAVIS: Mr. Wolf, that's overwhelming because people feel more relaxed and more comfortable and enjoying their environment and since the environment is a clean atmosphere to the extent that you're rid of these violators, they feel comfortable in sitting on their porches and coming in their yards, and even children outside playing and just outside activity has increased because of this Drug Market Initiative program, to the extent of clearing of, clearing this activity up in these neighborhoods that people just feel comfortable, and they feel comfortable in seeing the police riding in their neighborhoods because they realize that it's still enforcement being enacted to the extent of making sure that this type of clearance continues.
They just feel, the attitude toward the - from the community toward the police department has changed tremendously.
WOLF: And before people didn't trust the police.
DAVIS: Not to the extent of—no, not at all.
BUSH: There was a lady that came to visit from the Washington, D.C., area home, in one of the initiative areas, which was South Side, and she did not know her neighborhood. And she was actually talking to my sister -
WOLF: She was from, she was originally from South Side and she came back to visit?
BUSH: Right, from the South Side, and she actually went through the Ville, (Inaudible) Street area, she didn't see the same type of activity, she didn't see the same people. The atmosphere had totally changed and she actually had to look at street signs. She said “I couldn't believe this was South Side”. And she was talking to my sister and she was like, “I couldn't figure out what was going on. She said, where did all the people go?” And I began to explain to her what had happened. She was like, you know, “This is fantastic.”
WOLF: And so now the Drug Market Initiative is being replicated in 25 cities at least around the country. How do you guys feel about being the role model for other places?
DAVIS: Wonderful. It makes us feel good and it even allows us to know that we've done something that has attracted the attention of others, and the program works to the extent that they want to be a part of it and they, too, can clean their communities up as well.
BUSH: Most definitely. It's like a good recipe, where you try something and it comes out great, you want to share it so everyone's getting a taste of it.
They’re adapting it and we're working together to make sure that their program, you know, footmarks after what we've done but we don't want to get to a point where we feel like what we've done is okay, it's working, and we get relaxed. It's an everyday endeavor, things that you have to continually grow and tweak, and we even visit and take information from other cities that are trying things that are new and different, so that we can continue to have the growth in the positive way that we're having.
WOLF: I guess you can't ever just sit on your laurels, you have to keep working.
DAVIS: You have to keep working at it and you have to be willing to be involved.
WOLF: Well, I want to thank you both very much for taking the time to talk to me. I've been talking to Bobby Davis, who is a board member of the High Point Community Against Violence and a retired police officer after 30 years on the High Point police force. That's quite an achievement.
And I've also been talking to Gretta Bush, who is the president of High Point Community Against Violence and she's also a 30 year veteran of the High Point Parks and Recreation Department as a Senior Park Supervisor.
BUSH: Recreation Center Director.
WOLF: Recreation Center Director.
WOLF: All right, thank you very much. I'm Rob Wolf with the Center for Court Innovation in High Point, North Carolina. Thanks for listening and to find out more about the Center for Court Innovation visit www.courtinnovation.org.