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13 Current Issues Crim. Just. 5 (2001-2002)
The Cost of Crackdowns: Policing Cabramatta's Heroin Market

handle is hein.journals/cicj13 and id is 9 raw text is: The Cost of Crackdowns: Policing
Cabramatta's Heroin Market
At a time of increasing enthusiasm for proactive crime control, this paper draws on
extended research in Cabramatta, Sydney's principal street-level heroin market, to caution
that crackdowns on such markets may have counterproductive effects.' These include
serious risks to public health, threats to community safety as a result of geographical, social
and substance displacement, and harm to police-community relations and thereby to police
efficiency. The beneficial effects - such as potentially improving the quality of life in local
areas and reducing some recorded crime rates - must be weighed against these costs. There
may be goals no less important than reducing crime, and disorder comes in more than one
Previous evaluations of police crackdowns have concentrated on their effect on crime,
particularly violent crime (cf Sherman 1990, 1997). Displacement has been narrowly
conceived. Discussion of police-public relations has focused on civil liberties. In each
respect, we argue that the effects of crackdowns require more complex analysis.
Furthermore, the impacts of drug market crackdowns on public health deserve central
consideration. Much needs to be done in order to translate fine policy commitments to harm
minimization into operational policing practice. In this article, we suggest that the current
deployment of law enforcement is inappropriate because it threatens to increase, rather than
reduce the risks and harms associated with illegal drug markets. We consider harms to
public health, to community safety, and to police-community relations. Data are drawn
from in-depth ethnographic study of Cabramatta's drug market which has been underway
since 1995. Sources include tape-recorded, in-depth interviews with drug market
participants, more than 2000 pages of fieldnotes, and structured questionnaires.
During the early period of the study (1995-97), Cabramatta was the subject of several
high profile, intensive, and sustained policing interventions which targeted heroin users and
user-dealers.2 In this period, the principal police tactic was undercover buy/bust operations.
*  PhD, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052,
** PhD, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, D.Dixon@unsw.edu.au.
I  This research was supported by grants from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services
(National Drug Crime Prevention Fund) and the US National Institutes of Health (AIDS-FlRCA Grant #
R03 TW00562-01). We are grateful to CICJ's anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
2  There is no neat distinction between users and dealers at street level: most dealers use, and indeed sell in
order to finance their own consumption. They bear little resemblance to the folk-devil image of the drug-

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