Police Legitimacy and Disrupting Overt Drug Markets

Published in: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Volume 39, Issue 4 (2016), pp.667-679. doi: 10.1108/PIJPSM-02-2016-0014

Posted on RAND.org on June 30, 2017

by Jessica Saunders, Allison J. Ober, Dionne Barnes-Proby

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Overt drug markets are particularly difficult to address using traditional law enforcement tactics alone; disrupting these markets often requires substantial community cooperation. Enhancing police-community relations has been offered as a promising strategy for closing overt markets, demonstrating sustained success in several settings. The purpose of this paper is to examine theoretical mechanisms hypothesized to create immediate and sustained disruption in overt drug markets, focusing on the role of strengthened police/community relations, and greater police legitimacy.


The manuscript describes a series of focus groups with community residents across three sites over 15-months after a drug market intervention. A repeated cross-sectional design enabled in-depth analysis of study participants? views regarding mechanisms of change over time.


Study participants remained ambivalent about police legitimacy; they expressed appreciation regarding local policing efforts to improve neighborhood conditions, but maintained many negative feelings about the overall policing profession. Further, residents worried that the increased police presence might lead to greater harassment. Regardless of their misgivings, however, the findings reveal increases in police cooperation and improvements in some previously identified components of police legitimacy.

Practical Implications

There is partial support for several underlying mechanisms of change over time. Study participants perceived a more focused police response, resulting in disruptions of the market and sustained improvements in neighborhood conditions.


This reflects original work not published elsewhere. It contributes to a growing body of literature on the role of police legitimacy in problem-solving interventions.

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