Drug-dealer Problems
October 19, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

A man in my neighborhood is selling drugs, and from what I can tell its something hard. I want to report this anonymously to the police. I'm afraid of retribution if he or any of his associates find out about this. I'm confident I've identified him on Facebook. What materials should I include with my report? How likely is it to be followed up on?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Discreetly find out the number of the *yourcityPD* office that investigates illegal drug activity. If you can get a specific investigator's name and direct line that would be best. Call that line from a phone not linked to you and be ready with your suspect's complete description, known locales, name, and be prepared to explain succinctly exactly why you think he's selling drugs. Your city's website may have that contact information available, or you can just find a central police switchboard number, call during business hours, and ask to be transferred to the narcotics unit.
If you don't like the results or otherwise feel like you got blown off you can work with your City Council person to find the correct channel to have this problem addressed.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:44 AM on October 19, 2012

Anecdotally, followup is tough to predict. A friend of mine within the city limits of Los Angeles was in your situation and notified LAPD. After two months of no action, he notified the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, an agency that somehow shares jurisdiction with LAPD in a way of which I'm unsure. LASD busted and closed the drug house in a day.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2012

Yeah, some municipalities have more overlap than others. Most cities I am aware of have a strict line about enforcement roles in city limits of PD vs County Sheriffs, but it can't hurt to try your County Sheriff if PD is unresponsive. And of course there are local elected officials (including most Sheriffs, ferinstance) who would be happy to point you in the right direction as a constituent service. You may also look into local community groups or councils as well, depending on your locality. My point is, don't just give up if your first attempt to get this buy busted is unsuccessful.
Bear in mind that street dealers tend to be like roaches: if you see one, you can bet there are others, and more will follow shortly if you do not clean up right away.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:07 AM on October 19, 2012

I guess I'll be "that guy" and plead that you be very, very, very sure this person is actually selling drugs before you turn him in to the police. I think we've all seen the stories of police acting on an anonymous tip, breaking into a completely innocent person's home.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:17 AM on October 19, 2012 [27 favorites]

Lots of details and whatever evidence you can provide. If your report comes off as credible and actionable, you've got a better chance at follow-up. If you're concerned about retaliation you should make sure every anonymity duck is in a row first.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:18 AM on October 19, 2012

And because I think it's worthy of a separate comment, please be so very sure that you're right, and your ID on this guy is right.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:19 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some bigger cities have specific anonymous tip lines for this. Try googling [your city] anonymous police phone or something like that.
posted by Sara C. at 8:22 AM on October 19, 2012

It would be helpful to know where you are located.
posted by alms at 8:26 AM on October 19, 2012

I think we've all seen the stories of police acting on an anonymous tip, breaking into a completely innocent person's home.

Again, seconding this. I had a couple who I was really close friends with who were moderately heavy potheads in college, so while not innocent they weren't dealers or bad people either, who got raided by the cops when someone else ratted that they were selling 'heavy' stuff. They may have sold pot to friends but were not dealers and had probably only touched stuff like acid or shrooms at concerts/festivals. Not the hard/chemical drug types at all and certainly not dealers.

And by raided I mean door kicked in, them tackled, apartment torn apart including ceilings, walls, switch panels, etc. as the cops looked for some hidden stash. All they found was some pot and residue in a bong. One of the cops actually apologized as they led them into the station in handcuffs in the vein of "You're going to be charged because we found stuff but we really don't do this for people who are only doing [not selling] pot."

One moved back in with her parents, one quit school and moved home, etc, etc. It was not good and, while never the most motivated of people, their life and future took a pretty strong hit in a bad way.

I'm not saying don't contact the cops, I'm not saying this person isn't selling drugs, I'm not saying the drugs aren't the scary kind that go beyond recreational use. I am saying be aware that the cops take these reports seriously and probably have to act accordingly.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:38 AM on October 19, 2012 [13 favorites]

The vast, vast, vast majority of drug dealers are not violent, and you probably don't have to worry about retribution, assuming you don't live in a part of the city controlled by gangs (public housing, etc), in which case A) the police already know they're selling drugs and B) you probably have bigger problems than one dealer.
posted by empath at 8:38 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

True story with details potentially relevant to you: I had crack dealers in the apartment below mine in Seattle several years ago. I'm probably the most vehemently anti-drug person I know, but I didn't call the cops because I wasn't sure there was a drug thing going on. I was worried that they were cooking meth, but I couldn't discount the possibility that they were just the Jerry Springer Show in real life.

They got busted once out of their own stupidity in the middle of the night (a buyer was stopped down the street and pointed out the house while being questioned; I saw the whole thing happen, the cop in question put hardly any pressure on the buyer at all). My gf and I heard everything. The cops didn't arrest anyone because they couldn't pin the drugs on any one person in the house. They just confiscated all the drugs that were in plain sight, ran everyone for warrants (and found none), and then told everyone but the owner to leave for the night. So, first concern for you: Just because the cops raid and find drugs doesn't necessarily mean they'll be able to arrest.

Probably unique to my case: the tennant, Wayne, told the cops that the drugs were the property of one of his guests, and he couldn't just kick them out of his apartment because they'd beat him up. The cops asked if, should they ever come back and he didn't answer the door, that they should assume he was being held against his will. Wayne said, "Sure, I'd always open up for the police!" So now they don't need a warrant to enter; they just need him to not answer his door. (I had not heard this when it was spoken, but found out about it later.)

About ten minutes after the cops left, we heard at least a half dozen people downstairs yelling at one another about the raid. Having specifically heard the cops say they shouldn't have more people over, we decided to call the police on what was essentially a noise complaint--but we told the 911 operator about the previous bust. Cops showed up again. Wayne didn't answer his door; instead, he started flushing his drugs down the toilet in full view of the police through his window. And since he didn't open his door and had told him that meant he must be in a hostage situation, the cops kicked open the door.

One of the cops announced, with notable amusement, "Wow! There's a TON of drugs on your bed that weren't here half an hour ago! Whose drugs are these?" This led to the same run-through as before; it was an all-new set of customers, but the cops ran them for warrants, found none and had to let everyone go because they couldn't pin the drugs to any one individual. We saw the cops pull many very stuffed grocery bags of stuff out of the apartment; presumably, some of this was paraphenalia, but some of it was also actual drugs.

At that point, one of the cops quietly came upstairs, knocked on our door and asked if he could come in and talk to us privately. We let him in. He explained everything that had happened and asked our permission to cite our call in his report because it prevented Wayne from claiming harassment. He said the report would have our names redacted/sealed/blocked, but he pointed out that if Wayne got lawyered up it was possible that a judge would order the names revealed and then we might have to face retaliation. So, point two for your situation: the police may protect your identity, but it's not a sure thing.

(TBH, I'm pretty sure the cops would've listed us even if we hadn't given permission, but at least he asked and we had assumed we'd have our names attached to this in the first place.)

After having been busted twice in one night, Wayne was done. He disappeared from the state. However, it turned out that two cops came back a couple days later in a follow-up visit looking for one of Wayne's customers, who it turned out was wanted for attempted murder in Atlanta. (I will note: the half-dozen cops in the initial raid? Awesome. Patient, professional, not a single abusive word said to anyone they dealt with, barely any hands laid on anyone outside of frisking. But the two cops in the follow-up visit? Abrasive, grouchy assholes even to my gf and I who were demonstrably on their side.) Naturally, they were looking for the one guy who'd had snarling matches with my gf in the past (I'll note that he lost). So, point three: remember there may be much more going on than just the drugs.

Do your research on your local police. Excepting the two grouchy cops in the follow-up, ALL of my (many) interactions with Seattle PD have been awesome -- but in looking at media and hearing the experiences of others, I'm a complete aberration.

Think this over carefully. It could be a serious risk--and, as pointed out above, if these guys aren't dealing drugs you could be bringing them a lot of pain and trouble unjustly. But conversely, you absolutely have the right to live in a neighborhood without such bullshit.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:49 AM on October 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

Also: There's absolutely nothing wrong (or shouldn't be, anyway) with posing this question to a cop as, "If I think someone's selling hard drugs in my neighborhood, what information would I need to pass on? What makes for an actionable complaint for you?" The cop can't legally jump all over you for details on a hypothetical. He should be able to give you decent guidance and advice, and I've never heard of a cop who advised ordinary civilians to do things that would put them at risk. It's their job to investigate, not yours.

But again, as has been pointed out, mileage on this varies a lot from one city to the next. My personal experience has taught me to be fairly trusting and deferential to cops, but I'm a white male with no drug use, no tatoos, short hair, etc, and no reflexive nervousness around cops... so I don't fit any profiles. If you live in a city with super-aggressive or incompetent cops, your experience may be significantly different.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:08 AM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

You think the guy is selling drugs? If you know, then it's very likely that the cops do too.

*They may not be doing something about it because this dude is (intentionally or unintentionally) helping them to bust people left and right.

*He may be selling in such a way that it would take a lot of resources to bust, so they can't do anything about it.

You should focus on 'quality of life' kind of stuff that can help cops make easy arrests. If you've got the next Rick Ross or Pablo Escobar on your street, and he's just doing his thing, leaving you alone, and not hurting anybody then why do you have to mess with the guy? Would you have called the cops if you lived next to Bernie Madoff?

They probably would prefer not to see your "report." There's a lot out there that cops would rather not admit to knowing. Cops probably would like to know if this dude is doing bad things that he can be caught for.

Cops can really screw things up with informants. Prison is hell. Only get involved if you think you absolutely need to. It's better to just stay as far away as possible from police and thieves.
posted by shushufindi at 10:51 AM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

You can mention that you are not 100% sure and that you only THINK they have drugs/selling drugs. Tricky business frankly as others mentioned it could mess up an innocent man's life.
posted by pakora1 at 1:14 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is very unlikely the police will obtain a warrant based on an anonymous tip.

The way it works here, where the cops are pretty much professional and effective, is:
* You call in a tip
** Preferably you have specific information such as a customer description/license
* Cops follow up with person, who may be amenable to pressure (outstanding warrants, on probation)
* Customer is given the, uh, option of acting as an informant
* A controlled buy takes place with the informant returning to the location
** Note that THIS is usually what is meant by "arrest based on an anonymous tip", not somebody just making a phone call; maybe it starts with a buyer even going to the cops voluntarily. The key is that the tipster has to have a reasonable justification for knowing that the sale of contraband is taking place.
* When informant obtains drugs, cops go to judge with warrant
** Repeat as necessary, per DA's needs
* Bust

Now, strategies can also differ. For a long time my city was involved in a multi-jurisdictional anti-narcotics unit that looked to arrest (inter-city) traffickers and top-level dealers, not your average street dealer. As a result we had a lot of petty drug places all over and related gang/nuisance activity, and it felt to a lot of people like nothing was getting done (in fact they were essentially leaving these people in place for helping them with other investigations). Under pressure from the community the city withdrew from that unit and started cleaning up the drug houses. We may be getting fewer big shots busted, but we have a safer and quieter neighborhood.

It's better to just stay as far away as possible from police and thieves.

I'm sorry this has been your experience. As a victim of two violent crimes, I have to disagree, but I am aware that the police are not as admirable everywhere else. The cops are one part of the equation, but we did not see significant changes in our neighborhood until the city passed a nuisance ordinance allowing them to essentially lean on the landlords to get rid of illegal activity. With years of effort, our community organization now considers the police, the probation officers, the courts, the city, and a number of other organizations partners with whom we share information on a regular basis. Ultimately, to have a lasting effect you will want to consider changing your community collaboratively.
posted by dhartung at 2:18 PM on October 19, 2012

If you live in a large U.S. city with a poorly funded police force you can probably report your situation online with your local police force, who will promptly file the information and do nothing. Rest assured you will not face retribution in this type of situation as nobody saw it except some cop on desk duty.

If you live in a nice city with adequately funded departments with community/people based policing programs I would report it, or go to a community/neighborhood function with police representatives and talk to them in person about it. I wouldn't worry about any problems with retaliation unless the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of your local police force is Gomer Pyle.
posted by couchdive at 3:44 PM on October 19, 2012

I won't give you advice to call or not call the police. But be advised that calling from your cell with "no caller ID" turned on will not work when calling the police - they will see your number, possibly your name and address show up via a database too.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:58 PM on October 19, 2012

Completely depends on where you are, the relative size of "your" dealer to the substance problem in general in your community; the presumed substance your guy is slinging; who your guy buys HIS shit from; the judicial/political environment in that same community/neighborhood, and the kind of day the person answering your tip is having.

To wit: Nthing leave it the hell alone unless there is more than a negligible impact on your day to day universe.

For context: Shady cats shooting dope in your hallway/alleyway; cars regularly being broken into; generalized personal fear for your safety entering or exiting your home? Not negligible.

Furtive college kids double-parking the Volvo to pick up some Xanax; pot smoke wafting into your kitchen? Negligible.

Trust your gut. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two examples. The disease of addiction does not discriminate but the signs are usually there if you look closely enough.
posted by eggman at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2012

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