Police in High Point, N.C., are trying a counterintuitive but comprehensive approach to drug enforcement, in part by giving nonviolent suspected drug dealers a second chance, reports the Wall Street Journal. The strategy combines the “soft” pressure from families and community with the “hard” threat of aggressive prosecution. While critics say the strategy is too lenient, it has met with early success and is being tried by other communities afflicted with overt drug markets and the violence they breed.
In 2004, High Point’s police chief invited 12 suspected dealers to a meeting, with a promise they wouldn’t be arrested that night. Nine showed up. In one room, they met with about 30 clergy members and social workers who confronted them with the harm they were doing. In a second room they encountered law-enforcement officials who laid out the case against each of them and made an ultimatum: stop dealing or go to jail. The strategy is the brainchild of David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It has been used with success in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Newburgh, N.Y., and word is spreading.