Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier has disbanded a decade-old street-level drug unit, transferring nearly 30 officers back to patrol districts in a move that signals a shift in focus from open-air drug trafficking toward neighborhood crime, reports the Washington Post. Lanier eliminated the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division's “Strike Force,” decentralizing tactical operations against street-level drug activity across the city, in the midst of a dramatic decline in open-air drug markets in the District.
Open-air drug markets were a scourge in the District for more than two decades — not just because dealers used them to sell drugs but because of the crime those sales engendered. Addicts robbed and stole to fund their habits; rival dealers exchanged shots as they battled for lucrative corners. Now, the District is on the verge of a year with fewer than 100 killings, a level not seen since the early 1960s. Of the homicides committed this year, police think only a handful are related to drugs. In addition, technology has changed the way drug dealers do business. Where markets once swarmed with men serving customers through 24-hour hand-to-hand or drive-up service, more deals now take place indoors.