Drug Enforcement Research Paper

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Overview

The US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has consistently allocated between US $12 billion to U2003S$17 billion per year to fund the Federal Drug Control Budget since the turn of the century (ONDCP 2011). In addition, the cumulative costs of drug law enforcement for federal, state, and local governments has been estimated to exceed US$35 billion annually (Boyum and Reuter 2005). These budgetary figures illustrate a persistent commitment for the continued “war on drugs” waged by different agencies within the law enforcement community to investigate, build cases, arrest and ultimately incarcerate individuals involved in illicit drug distribution.

Given this clear enterprise, it is important to understand the different practices and procedures utilized by drug law enforcement officials, including: (a) investigation techniques, (b) street-level enforcement, and (c) problem-oriented policing strategies designed to disrupt drug markets. Within this research paper, a variety of different drug enforcement approaches will be discussed in detail. In addition, potential drug law enforcement effectiveness and crime reduction impact will be examined within each sub-section, where appropriate and applicable.

Drug Investigations

In the past 20 years plus, there has been a shift away from reactive (i.e., unfocused and reactionary) policing toward more proactive police tactics. Proactive policing typically refers to self-initiated activities during uncommitted patrol time. A cornerstone role of drug law enforcement is to identify and eventually build cases against illicit drug offenders. A common practice of drug investigators is to engage in covert operations through undercover policing, and to rely on the use of confidential informants. In this section, these tactics and different policing approaches will be discussed in extensive detail.

Girodo (1985) notes that undercover investigations are typically either strategic or tactical in nature; strategic investigations are typically referred to as undercover probes that are used to target a group or geographic area in addition to standard surveillance activity. Tactical investigations target specific individuals, seek evidence regarding their intentions to commit a specific crime, and are geared toward eventual prosecution. In this case, the main purpose of conducting an extensive undercover drug investigation is to gather convincing evidence in order to meet the required standard of evidence (i.e., proof beyond reasonable doubt) needed for a conviction at trial (Sherman 1987, p. 88). In terms of a time-line, Girodo (1985) notes that undercover drug investigations can occasionally last a day or two, but most often occur over several weeks to a few months; and, in some cases can last years.

However, the use of undercover surveillance is not always clear-cut and certainly not without its controversies. Gary Marx (1988) illustrated that undercover policing has both intended and unintended consequences. Among other points of concern, Marx (1988) laments that individuals targeted by an investigation can be deceptively provoked to commit a crime. The use of coercive undercover techniques (i.e., coercion or temptation) by law enforcement has the potential to erode public confidence in police, particularly when they are used to target the politically affluent or those from marginalized communities. Thus, the short-term benefits of a single arrest will most likely not outweigh lingering doubts about procedural unfairness. Many have argued the lack of control over undercover policing should promote more stringent regulations. Ultimately, legitimacy through the rigorous case-building and procedurally fair (i.e., uncorrupt) investigations that promote public safety and foster crime prevention is the ideal balance, which serves as the primary goal of drug investigations.

Marx (1988) also illustrated that effectiveness in undercover policing can be viewed as a paradox. Success or failure can be defined both as an arrest (because in this case a crime has been detected and justice pursued) as well as a non-arrest (i.e., the absence of an arrest may indicate a deterrent effect). Thus, evaluating the overall efficiency and utility of undercover investigations is an arduous task.

Another important aspect of investigative work by drug law enforcement is the use of confidential informants (CIs), which are usually individuals that are networked within the local drug trade. CIs typically assist police in their investigations, often in exchange for leniency. James Q. Wilson (1968) noted that the use of CIs often centers on the following primary functions: providing leads, casework facilitation, and occasionally testifying in court. Certainly, a great deal of research exists regarding the tactical components of covert drug investigations (see Miller 1987). Related specifically to illegal drug investigations, CIs are considered the ‘sine qua non’ of narcotics work.

In terms of outlining a framework of drug investigations, the primary function of CIs is to assist investigations by providing detailed information about the nature of drug market networks, which usually requires at least some intimate knowledge of the relationship between users and dealers. In a study that relied upon interviews with 24 undercover officers, Jacobs (1997) outlined a “contingent tie” perspective (i.e., perceptual bonds that may be either weak or strong depending on context and history between individuals) that can be used to explain the social-link between users and dealers, as well as police with CIs. In essence, the reliance on CIs as an investigative tool requires multiple steps and social interactions between drug investigators and potential CIs.

Jacobs (1997) also illustrated that police often first attempt to establish these contingent ties by purchasing drugs directly from potential lower-level distributers (e.g., pretending their ‘usual’ dealer was unable to provide their normal service and a single purchase would serve as a favor to the undercover officer). Then, investigators use threats of a potential arrest and likely conviction to encourage cooperation among these primary actors in order leverage them to serve as an intermediary informant with others involved in drug market networks. In addition, fictitious relationships between officers and CIs usually need to be established, which usually fall under one of three forms: jailhouse buddies (e.g., police and CIs pretend to know one-another from jail or prison), co-workers (e.g., acting as though they were introduced to one-another through work), or subcultural associates (e.g., conveying they have been long-term offending “colleagues”).

A failure to protect CIs (i.e., “burning informants”) as part of their investigation makes it virtually impossible to replenish this vital fact-finding resource. Jacobs (1997) noted that drug investigators will likely “cut out” (i.e., remove) CIs from their investigation by complaining about unfair (and fictitious) taxation directly to dealers. For example, undercover officers often ask dealers to engage in future transactions directly with them in order to “cut out” the mid-level person – who happens to also be the CI. This type of deception is used to capitalize on the CIs relationship with others involved in drug networks without putting them in the middle of the investigation, past the onset point. In addition, Manning (1977) illustrated that the reliance on CIs is usually temporary and requires a continued commitment given the high-turnover, and replacement found in illicit drug networks. Thus, law enforcement officials must be invested perhaps more in protecting rather than exploiting their relationship with CIs, particularly over the long-term.

Ultimately, investigations are a preliminary step in terms of initiating law enforcement driven approaches to disrupt illicit drug networks and open-air drug markets. While some have argued there should be additional constraints placed on the process of investigations, most researchers regard undercover investigations and the use of confidential informants a vital component in drug investigations. After a thorough inquiry is conducted, the next traditional step for police officials is to engage in street-level enforcement, which can take multiple approaches and has a variety of sensitive issues that are typically considered.

Street-Level Drug Enforcement

In a systematic review of over 130 street-level drug enforcement strategies, Mazerolle et al. (2007) synthesized their findings into a finite number of approaches that do not necessarily require interagency cooperation between police and other criminal justice organizations (i.e., those that tended to be “police-only”), some of which are discussed in detail here, including: drug seizures; crop eradication; crackdowns; raids; and search and seizures.

Drug seizures are often referred to as “supplyreduction” strategies that generally center on reducing trafficking, dealing, and the amount of drugs available in a specific geographic area. The seizure of drugs can take place during a routine investigation (described above) or can occur as part of a larger intervention or suppression effort. While evaluative research on seizures of general drugs is rather scant, a majority of evaluations have focused on the impact of heroin-based seizures. Wood et al. (2003) reported a nonsignificant association between police-led heroin seizures and price, availability, drug-related deaths (including overdoses), as well as overall rates of crime and arrest. Little empirical research exists demonstrating a tangible relationship between drug supply reduction strategies and crime associated with illegal drug markets. This is not surprising given that five-sixths of the crime and violence associated with illegal drug distribution is motivated primarily by drug money while only one-sixth is motivated by drugs themselves (see Caulkins and Reuter 1998). Thus, supply reduction strategies should also be evaluated, in part, on their periphery influence regarding financial increases within drug markets brought forth by street-level enforcement.

Another supply-reduction approach is crop eradication. Research on crop eradication has primarily focused on the removal, confiscation, and destruction of cannabis. Overall effectiveness is difficult to measure, primarily given the findings by Potter, Gaines, and Holbrook (1990) which illustrates how growers and distributers often adapt to the increased attention by police (e.g., moving cannabis plants from outdoors to indoors). Cost-effectiveness is also difficult to determine given the extensive amount of time devoted to most crop reduction strategies.

To this point, the drug law enforcement approaches discussed here have generally been restricted to investigations, undercover work, the use of CIs, and supply-reduction strategies. However, street-level drug enforcement can also involve both undercover and uniformed officers, and thus are usually very highly visible to the surrounding community. This is particularly true concerning the use of police crackdowns and raids. Sherman (1990, p. 1) defined a police crackdown as “a sudden increase in officer presence, sanctions, and the threat of apprehension either for specific offenses or for all offenses in specific places.” In offense-specific crackdowns, police focus on a particular type of activity, such as public drunkenness, prostitution, and drug dealing. Location-based crackdowns are aimed at reducing crime in a targeted area. Again, Mazerolle et al.’s (2007) review of the evaluation literature shows that the vast majority of drug enforcement crackdowns generally target streetlevel drug markets (particularly focusing on “harder” drugs such as crack, cocaine, and heroin); however, some crackdowns also focused on drug distribution within indoor locations – including both residential and commercial sites (e.g., motels/hotels, clubs, etc.).

A synthesis of evaluation-based research suggests that crackdowns produce widely varying results in terms of altering drug and crime problems. Roughly 1/3 of the evaluations indicated a positive effect (i.e., a reduction in drug problems), 1/3 demonstrated no discernable effect, and 1/3 actually showed evidence of a negative effect (i.e., an unintended increase in drug problems). Of those studies that illustrated a reduction in drug problems, the following were consistent themes observed across the evaluations: (a) the reductions in crime were more likely observed with property and violent offenses rather than drug-specific incidents; (b) the impact appeared to be short-term; and, (c) potential effects were more likely observed in geographically contained areas near bridges, rivers, and borders where displacement was less likely to occur due to natural barriers (Mazerolle et al. 2007).

While crackdowns are described as a sudden increase in police presence, raids are equally intensive but are usually directed within specific indoor locations (e.g., a single residence within an apartment complex or a single bar). Like crackdowns, police raids appear to have a short-term impact on reducing the supply of drugs as well as crime and disorder problems. Cohen, Gorr, and Singh (2003) showed that police enforcement activities that target drug dealing in nuisance bars (i.e., drug hotspots) have the capacity to have a substantive impact on levels of drug dealing, at least during those periods of active raid-based enforcement. In the Cohen et al. (2003) study, there were distinct and active periods of police raids in nuisance bars conducted by the narcotics squad, followed by back-off periods. The authors’ note that drug dealing in street markets that are associated with nuisance bars show considerable resiliency after raid and suppression strategies are withdrawn by law enforcement. However, over reliance on raids and crackdowns also has the potential to alienate even the most cooperative residents within high-crime areas, which can have long-term repercussions from a community crime perspective.

Problems With Intensive Street-Level Drug Enforcement

The continual use of police crackdowns, raids, and enhanced searches and seizures in order to control drug related problems in high-crime areas often comes at a tangible cost. Personal contact with police is perhaps the most important factor that shapes individuals’ perceptions of law enforcement. Cao et al. (1996) also illustrated that community context plays a major role in terms of residents’ appraisals of law enforcement. Citizens in disadvantaged and high-crime areas are often skeptical, concerned, and in most cases resistant to potentially intrusive police practices.

In terms of the intersection between race and community context, Weitzer (1999) found that Blacks and Whites in middle-class neighborhoods were less likely to perceive police to be abusive or to engage in enforcement-based misconduct than were Black residents in lower-class neighborhoods. In many cases, police seem to behave differently depending on the type of neighborhood they patrol. Terrill and Reisig (2003) found police were more likely to use force in disadvantaged neighborhoods on suspects. Similarly, Kane (2005) found police were more likely to engage in misconduct in distressed communities. Instances of over-policing (i.e., aggressive enforcement) and under-policing (i.e., lack of concern) can erode public confidence in formal mechanisms of social control.

However, research also consistently indicates a desire for integrative law enforcement responses to crime and drug problems in high-risk geographic contexts. In a study of the perceptions of Black residents in high-crime areas, Brooks (2000) found a paradox in that many African-Americans residing in poor neighborhoods and who were disproportionately affected by high-crime problems often associated with illicit street drug markets were frustrated with levels of crime, desired tough legal enforcement, but were also fearful of police. Carr et al. (2007) similarly found that youths from high-crime communities who were negatively disposed to police also were overwhelmingly in support of increased and tougher law enforcement approaches. Finally, in an interesting twist, Cooper et al. (2005) conducted a study that relied upon interviews with 40 drug-injecting residents and found that “study participants lauded the reductions in public drug activity that constant [police] monitoring produced” (Cooper et al. 2005, p. 681). Thus, there appears to be a constant tension in terms of maintaining a balance between levels of enforcement that are perceived appropriate by local residents contrasted with efforts that are viewed as excessive and unwarranted.

To illustrate, rapid response time by police are largely unrelated to on-scene arrests (some contend fewer than 29 for every 1,000 cases). However, expedient citizen reporting time significantly influenced the likelihood of on-scene arrests. Thus, outcome-driven processes that substantively improve police effectiveness are more important than simply focusing on traditional organizational police processes.

Integrative policing approaches that rely upon a diverse set of strategies as well as neighborhood residents to assist in the performance of their duties are also more likely to stimulate cooperation when citizens’ view the police favorably and with legitimacy. Strategies that promote positive pro-social aspects of neighborhood integration appear to have a mediating effect on targeted neighborhood crime outcomes. In the next section, more extensive detail is provided for problem-oriented policing applications that have shown considerable promise in reducing drug related incidents.

Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) Strategies

Beginning in the 1980s, there was a groundbreaking shift in policing strategies that saw the advent of new approaches to law enforcement, including hotspots policing (i.e., strategically focusing on small geographic places to reduce high levels of crime), community policing (i.e., law enforcement approaches that promote community engagement) and problem-oriented policing (i.e., problem solving through the use of a variety of analytical approaches). Concerns with effectiveness and evaluation are consistent with the problem-oriented policing (POP) framework introduced by Herman Goldstein (1990).

Morris and Heal (1981) also advocated the use of “situational policing” as a potential approach to ensure the assimilation between various communities interests with police-led crime prevention activities. The POP model calls for police to use scanning, analysis, response, and assessment (SARA) in order to determine and define crime problems (i.e., root-causes) rather than reacting to crime incidents (i.e., symptoms). Goldstein (1990) provided an “inventory” of actions that he argued should be employed by law enforcement interested in adopting the problem-oriented model. Some key components of Goldstein’s (1990) inventory included: concentrating on high-call locations; integration with additional government and private agencies; use of mediation (rather than simply using arrest-only); mobilization and collaborating with the local community; using civil and criminal law to control public nuisances; and, opportunity reduction (see also Clarke, 1997).

Eck (2006) more recently framed problem-oriented policing around three major principles: empirical, normative, and scientific. The empirical principle states that the public demands police handle a diverse range of crime problems, and that they are not invested in specifically how police handle such problems (i.e., arrest need not be the only “tool” available to police). The normative principle illustrates that police should address and ultimately reduce crime problems rather than simply respond to incidents. Finally, the scientific principle asserts that police should use scientific evidence to identify and address core crime problems. In essence, the tools officers utilize to address crime problems such as illegal drug distribution should be analytical, unique, and crafted specifically to each problem.

Mazerolle et al. (2006) conducted a rigorous meta-analytic review of street-level drug law enforcement strategies. The study assessed the relative effects of different approaches by comparing problem-oriented policing (outlined above) with community-wide policing, hotspots policing, standard (i.e., unfocused) law enforcement efforts. Effect size comparisons (i.e., changes in targeted outcomes) indicated that problem-oriented policing programs and geographically-based interventions that involved cooperative partnerships between police and third parties (e.g., community members, social service providers, additional government agencies, etc.) tended to be far more effective at controlling drug problems than traditional and law-enforcement only interventions. Mazerolle et al. (2006) concluded that policing initiatives that forge cross-agency and cross-community partnerships had the most pronounced and sustained effect on drug crime problems.

Recent development in POP drug enforcement strategies have focused on the use of “pulling levers” focused deterrence initiatives to disrupt the crime and violence associated with street-based drug markets. Pulling levers policing relies on actors across multiple agencies (i.e., police, prosecution, probation and parole, social service providers, and community leaders) to use data-driven approaches in order to target repeat and chronic offenders within high-crime locations (Goldstein 1990). Pulling levers strategies are designed to utilize specific deterrence in order to inform chronic and persistent offenders of the sanctions that are specifically available to criminal justice officials that can be used to obtain leverage and ultimately reduce recidivism (Kennedy 1997).

The initial pulling levers policing strategy that used this type of focused deterrence framework occurred in Boston where citywide levels of youth homicide significantly declined by roughly 66 % after implementation (Braga et al. 2001). A number of sites have replicated the approach, and a series of evaluations have provided further evidence of a significant violent crime impact. While the majority of these strategies and subsequent evaluations have focused predominantly on reducing youth, gang, and gun violence, officials have recently begun adapting the approach to disrupt levels of crime and violence associated with street level drug markets (Kennedy 2009).

Officials in High Point, North Carolina were the first to use the problem-oriented policing model while also incorporating a pulling levers intervention in order to disrupt neighborhood crime problems facilitated by local drug markets. More specifically, they combined the threat of enhanced sanctions to targeted individuals that were identified through a detailed drug investigation in order to emphasize the seriousness of their message through the use of a public neighborhood call-in session. In addition, the public communication strategy was designed to demonstrate interagency and community cooperation and encourage improved social service provisions for desisting offenders in an effort to permanently disrupt several open-air drug markets across the city (Kennedy 2009). Initial results from High Point indicated significant declines in drug and violent offending as well as perceptional changes among residents in target areas (Kennedy 2009). Replications of the High Point drug market program evaluated in Nashville, TN (Corsaro et al. 2010) and Rockford, IL (Corsaro et al. forthcoming) also demonstrated similar promise. Thus, the use of specific deterrence combined with detailed drug investigations appears to warrant additional attention as a potential mechanism to disrupt open-air drug markets. However, we also note that POP strategies are not always universally successful.

Problems With Problem-Oriented Policing

While a variety of promising POP strategies were presented here in terms of impacting drug related crime, it is also important to note that in practice POP has a number of limitations that should be carefully considered. Eck (2006) contends that problem-oriented policing was originally designed to be held within police headquarters, though in reality decentralization occurred where problem-identification and subsequent problem-solving tasks were shifted to police officers within operational units.

In addition, Cordner and Biebel (2005) conducted an organizational study of POP in practice within an organization that appeared to be devoted to the POP model. Study results indicated that patrol officers often engage in activity that could be defined as problem-solving; however, these same patrol officers tended to concentrate their efforts on symptoms of greater neighborhood problems (e.g., drug deals) and indeed very rarely formally used the SARA model in order to disrupt central community crime problems (e.g., personal crime, property crime, traffic violations). Cordner and Biebel (2005) found that while patrol officers engaging in problem-solving were thoughtful and analytical in their various approaches to specific neighborhood crime problems, they rarely engaged in a full range of POP activities since these require extensive data analysis, integrative and dynamic approaches, and evidence-based evaluations. In essence, the true POP model requires more time, effort, and energy than many officials are willing to invest. drug enforcement strategies are present when policing illegal drug markets, the evidence suggests that crime reduction benefits are more likely to occur.

Conclusion

Boyum and Reuter (2005) estimated that the imprisonment risk per drug transaction in the USA was about 1 in 4,500 for drug sellers that average roughly 1,000 transactions annually. In addition, they calculated the risk of imprisonment for distributing 0.2 g units of cocaine to be less than 1 in 15,000 per sale for distributers. When coupled with the combined state and federal annual budget averages that range between an estimated $30 and $35 billion per year, objective readers will likely question the efficiency, practicality, and sustainability of current criminal justice approaches to street level drug law enforcement.

In this research paper, a detailed review of drug enforcement strategies, history, processes, and evaluations of effectiveness were presented. Given that illicit drug networks and open-air drug markets appear to be unique across different locations, there does not seem to be a single catch-all drug law enforcement approach that solves the laundry list of drug crime problems. However, proper steps and continual commitment geared toward drug investigations, street level enforcement, community cooperation, and long-term commitment to solving drug crime problems has shown promising results.

In essence, effective POP strategies are built upon the total range of drug enforcement strategies discussed here. Investigations are a single step in the process; the use of CIs helps build stronger cases; suppression policing directed at specific individuals or within specified locations can have a short-term impact; inter-agency cooperation helps drive reductions in drug related crime problems; community notification sessions are designed to improve police-community relationships; and community informal social control helps sustain potential positive drug crime reduction gains. When the cumulative efforts of these

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