Policy Factsheet

Effective Drug Law Enforcement

Reasons for Policy

  • In 2002, the U.S. spent over 50% of the federal expenditure for drug control on domestic law enforcement.1
  • Drug law enforcement is the primary component of national drug policies.1
  • The “standard model,” or traditional approach of policing, involving unfocused strategies, rapid response to calls for service, routine patrol, and increasing the number of police in a jurisdiction, has little empirical support.1

Community Groups

  • Community-based Organizations
  • Local Government
  • Local Law Enforcement

Policy Components

  • Policing approaches that include a level of focus and a diversity of approaches
  • Hot-spots policing (e.g., raids, crackdowns, buy-bust operations)
  • Problem-oriented policing (e.g., drug nuisance abatement, civil remedies)
  • Community-wide policing (e.g., Weed and Seed)

Desired Outcomes

  • Reduce or prevent illicit drug use
  • Reduce or prevent drug dealing
  • Reduce drug-related calls for service and reported offenses
  • Reduce drug incidents
  • Reduce calls for service and reported offenses for non-drug offenses (e.g., property crime, violent offenses and disorder)

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

On average, problem-oriented policing can achieve:1 • Moderate effects on drug-related calls for service (Odds Ratio = 1.44, 95% CI: 1.16-1.77)1 • Large effects on total calls for service (Odds Ratio = 1.81, 95% CI: 1.21-2.72)1

On average, hotspots policing can achieve:

  • Small effects on total offenses (Odds Ratio = 1.04, 95% CI: 1.01-1.08)1

Effects of community-, hotspot- and problem-oriented policing are not significant for drug offenses, offenses against the person, property offenses, crime-related calls for service, and disorder-related calls for service.1

Problem-oriented and community-wide policing approaches that seek to disrupt street-level drug market problems are likely to be a more productive approach to reducing drug problems than directed law enforcement focused on hotspots.1

Community Examples

Napa County, California, Napa County Sheriff’s Office, Operations Division includes a Problem Oriented Policing Program.

St. Louis, Missouri, employs Weed & Seed, a community-based strategy that aims to prevent, control, and reduce violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity.

Links to Policy Examples

Cal. Gov. Code §26600, Preservation of peace

42 U.S.C.A §§ 3712a. Office of Weed and Seed strategies, 3712b. Weed and Seed strategies (Pub.L. 109-162, Title XI, § 1121(a))

† Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development.

‡Local governments and organizations may check existing state and federal statutes and administrative codes for the authority to implement local policies.


1 Mazerolle, L, Soole, DW, Rombouts, S (2007). Street-level drug law enforcement: A meta-analytic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2007, 2, DOI:10.4073/csr.2007.2.

2 Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.