Sunday, January 17, 2016

Exploring the Defensive Actions of Drug Sellers in Open-Air Markets: A Systematic Social Observation

Objectives: The current study contributes to the literature through a systematic social observation of the defensive actions of drug sellers within open-air retail markets. The study expands upon previous literature by incorporating a novel data collection and coding method.

Methods: Video footage of narcotics transactions was extracted from the closed-circuit television (CCTV) system of the Newark, NJ Police Department. Researchers transcribed and coded the footage to measure the frequency of defensive actions incorporated by drug sellers. Fisher’s exact tests measured whether the frequency of each defensive action significantly differed across geographic setting or time of day.

Results: The frequency of many defensive actions was significantly related to geographic setting and time of day. The strongest relationship was observed between the use of stash spots and setting. Overall, the findings suggest that drug sellers adopt tenets of Opportunity Theory to protect themselves from law enforcement, specifically by acting as guardians and place managers on their own behalf.

Conclusions: This study extends prior techniques and provides an additional case study on the use of CCTV footage in the study of street-level crime. This methodology can be used in concert with more traditional ethnographic techniques in the study of the drug trade and in crime-and-place research in general.

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1Department of Law and Police Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City, NY, USA
2Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Eric L. Piza, Department of Law and Police Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City, NY, USA. Email:

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