Drug Activity

Signs of Drug Activity

It’s often hard to be certain that what you’re seeing involves drugs, but some patterns may indicate drug activity:

  • An unusually large amount of visitors who come to the house or apartment building and stay only for a short time — in cars, taxis or by foot — often at strange hours. Sometimes, they don’t even go in at all; instead, someone comes out to meet them.
  • Finding drugs or drug paraphernalia (syringes, pipes, baggies, etc.) in the area
  • Repeated, observable exchanges of items, especially with the presence of money
  • Offers to sell you drugs, or conversations about drugs that you overhear
  • Noxious odors coming from around the houses or buildings, such as “musty” smells
  • Houses or buildings where extreme security measures seem to have been taken
  • Houses or buildings where no owner or primary renter is apparent, and no home activities — yard work, painting, maintenance, etc. — seem to go on

How to Report Drug Activity

  • Don’t assume the police already know about the activity, or that a neighbor will call.
  • Don’t assume one report will suffice. If the activity continues to occur, keep reporting it. If the pattern changes, report that change. All neighbors affected by the drug activity should file a report.
  • Report drug activity by submitting the online Drug Activity Report Form or by calling:
    • 911, for drug activity in progress
    • 703-558-2222, for non-emergency assistance
    • 703-228-4111, for making an anonymous report (It’s more helpful to give your contact information in case other information may be need regarding the drug activity, but your name will be kept confidential if requested.)
  • When reporting drug activity, tell the police:
    • What makes you think drugs are being sold?
    • Which drugs are involved? Have you found any drug paraphernalia?
    • How long has the activity gone on?
    • Have you reported that activity before? If so, when?
    • What is the address of the drug activity (including the apartment number), or the closest intersection?
    • What type of building is it (single family home, business, apartment)?
    • Where on the property is the drug activity taking place (e.g., at the front door, out the back window, in the alley, etc.)?
    • Do you know where the drugs are kept?
    • What is the pattern of activity (times of day and days of the week when it’s heaviest; number of people in and out at a given hour; whether cars drive up to the house or people park and walk up or arrive in taxis; and the direction people come from and how they leave)? Keeping a written log of your observations, including date and time, can help identify patterns.
    • Have there been any other crimes associated with the operation (e.g., threats or assaults on neighbors, increased burglaries, etc.)?
    • Do you know the name and address of the property owner?
    • Do you know the name(s) of the person(s) suspected of dealing?
    • What do the suspected dealer(s) look like (sex, age, race, height, weight, build, hair and eye color, hairstyle, facial hair, complexion, eyewear, distinctive clothing, etc.)? Be as specific as possible with your descriptions.
    • What type(s) of car(s) do the suspected dealer(s) drive (make, model, year, two-door or four-door, license number, license state, exterior color, distinctive features)?
    • What do the “customers” look like (typical sex, age, race, clothing style)? A detailed description of each buyer isn’t necessary, but an overview would be useful.
    • What are the license numbers of the customer’s cars? License numbers alone won’t result in an arrest or probable cause for a search warrant but can be useful in an investigation.
    • How many people live in the house? Are there any children? How old are they?
    • Any dogs? What kind? How many?
    • Are there bars or any other types of reinforcements on the house windows and doors? What kind? Where? Any alarm or security systems? What kind?
    • Have you seen any weapons? What kind? How many?

After You Report Drug Activity

  • When you report drug activity, an officer will respond as soon as one is available. Drug transactions seldom involve any danger to either participants or bystanders, and crimes that endanger someone must have the first priority. Also, drug deals finish quickly, often before an officer can arrive.
  • Citizen reports are not usually the primary justification for a drug arrest. Unless you have special training or experience with drugs or drug users, the courts will say an arrest based on only your testimony isn’t justified. Since few citizens can meet the strict legal standards, officers who do have the training and experience must make their own observations and collect evidence the courts will accept.
  • One reason arrests can’t be made just because someone says they saw a drug deal, is that a significant number of such complaints are found to be invalid when investigated. Neighbors may misinterpret what they see or a drug complaint can be an act of revenge for other neighborhood problems.
  • Even though they can’t be used as the direct justification for an arrest, your reports are still important — they let the police know there’s a problem and they provide a reason for police to undertake an investigation of a person or location. Under the laws of our land, police can’t stop or investigate people without reasonable suspicion.
  • If sufficient cause can be confirmed, a written request will be made to a magistrate for a search warrant for the house or building, and residents who possess drugs will be arrested. The court may release them on bail, however, and they may return to their neighborhood while they await trial, but most dealers move elsewhere, or stop dealing after they’ve been arrested. Under the law, certain property may be confiscated by the government, and the proceeds of the sale given to law enforcement agencies to be used for drug enforcement activities.