Drugs and Crime Relations

Subject: Law
Pages: 20
Words: 5508
Reading time:
21 min
Study level: College


Drugs and crime are intractable challenges even as technology continues to enhance the crime combating capacity of security agencies. Studies have increasingly pointed to the idea that crime and drugs are inextricably linked, but some scholars argue that there is no direct causal relationship between the two. This study sought to establish how drugs influence crime rates with Dallas as the study location. The study data was obtained from Dallas police databases as well as one-on-one interviews with residents of Dallas city and a detective from the Dallas Police Department Narcotics unit. The findings were consistent with existing literature as they show that drugs escalate crime. Specifically, heroin and cocaine are the key contributors to property crime. The findings further showed that violent crime is largely perpetrated by drug dealers rather than users. Drug treatment can thus reduce drug related crime drastically if enhanced.

Drugs Increase Crime

Crime is among the key global challenges that the world faces today. As the sophistication of technology brought about by the fast-paced technological landscape enhances the capacity of security agencies to combat crime, it (crime) also metamorphoses into complex forms that are difficult to deal with (Thoumi, 2005). The Global Regime for Transnational Crime (2013) posits, “Criminal groups have appropriated new technologies and adapted horizontal network structures that are difficult to trace and stop” (Para.2). The negative aspect of crime stems from its ability to limit countries’ capacity to provide basic amenities for their populace, escalate violent conflicts, and cause unbearable suffering to society. An intriguing aspect of crime that attracts the attention of scholars and security machineries is that it is closely linked to drugs. The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (2009) observes that the link between drugs and crime is inextricable as the mere possession of narcotics is a criminal offence.

Goldstein (1985) offered a tripartite taxonomy for drugs and crime relationship. Many explanations that exist in drugs and crime literature base their arguments on this taxonomy. The three different perspectives to the link between drugs and crime are psychopharmacological (the view that crimes are committed under the influence of drugs), economic-compulsive (the view crimes are committed to fund drug purchases), and systemic (the view that crimes emerge from drug propelled disputes such as territory disputes and contract disputes) (National Institute of Justice, 2003). These assertions by Goldstein (1985) and the desire to understand the dynamics of the drug-crime relationship have triggered numerous studies on the subject with results seemingly agreeing with the idea that drugs are linked to crime albeit not directly. In England, for instance, “about a quarter of the 188,000 adults who underwent community treatment services in 2008 accessed the services via the criminal justice system” (National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, 2009, p.47). In Australia, an analysis of 4,645 arrestees revealed that over 60% of them were drug users who had committed crimes in the previous twelve months and they believed that their offences were drug influenced (Connolly, 2006). The US as well as other nations across the world also witnesses similar trends.

These trends are replicated down to the state, community, and city levels. In Denver, for instance, money laundering is a common criminal activity alongside other crimes associated with drug dealing, as many gangs are involved in the business (Mumola & Karberg, 2006). Elsewhere in the state of Idaho, the Idaho State Police (2010) notes that the findings of a study dubbed Adam II conducted in 2008 were consistent with the Idaho situation. The results showed that between “49% and 87% of all arrestees were positive for at least one substance at the time of arrest and between 15% and 40% of the arrestees were positive for more than one substance” (Idaho State Police, 2010, p.11).

Statement of the Problem

The bulk of literature that is available on the subject of drugs and crime overwhelmingly shows that many scholars agree with the argument that drugs and crime are related in some way. The question that arises from these studies is how drugs cause crime or how crime brings about the use of drugs. This important question elicited the attention of many scholars, but without substantial positive headway. No scholar has given an explicit explanation, which comes from an empirical study. Attempts to explain the how drugs cause crime are based on Goldstein’s models, which were developed from a theoretical perspective, but not from a practical empirical study. This aspect has motivated dissenting scholars to conduct their own studies to debunk the idea that drugs cause crime. For instance, Deitch et al. (2000) argue that there is no direct link between the use of drugs and crime; on the contrary, both are typical of deviant and delinquent lifestyles. This position has many proponents who, based on this argument, have developed a fourth model that attempts to explain the relationship between drugs and crime (Shepard, & Blackley, 2005). The fourth model asserts that there is no express causal link between drugs and crime, but the two share some common causal factors, hence the close relationship (Shepard, & Blackley, 2005). This argument holds to some extent as not all drug users commit crimes, but most criminals are drugs users. This lack of consensus on how drugs cause crime or vice versa leaves a gap that needs to be filled within the drug and crime literature. The important question that should be answered to fill this gap is whether drugs actually have an impact on crime rates. If they do, then how do they do that, and to what extent do they influence crime. These questions are the primary concern of this study.

Research Hypotheses

In the light of the existing literature and trends that have been observed all over the world, this study was conducted under the auspices of the following hypotheses.

  • H1: Narcotics have a high impact on the incidence of crime in a city.
  • H0: Narcotics do not have an impact on the incidence of crime in a city.

This study thus seeks to either discount or affirm the hypotheses outlined above for by so doing, it will either agree with the bulk of literature that exists on drugs and crime or refute it.

Rationale for the Study

The study already hinted that the existing literature has been majorly concerned with determining if there is a correlation between drugs and crime. Overwhelming evidence points to the idea that drugs and crime are positively correlated (Rosenfeld, 2004). Opponents of this argument are keen to point out that there is no causal relationship between the two, but they also fail to give an explicit explanation on how the two are related. They attempt to do so by citing drugs and crime relationship to other factors. A simple implication of this aspect is that if the factors were excluded from study variables, then this group of scholars would lack an explanation for the relationship between drugs and crime. This study thus seeks to bridge the important literature gap of how and to which extent drugs influence crime with the setting of a city as the area of study.

Literature Review

Numerous past studies have been conducted on the subject of drugs and crime. Most of these studies have been carried out with the aim of establishing a link between drugs and crime, and thus they have succeeded in finding out that there is a positive correlation between drugs and crime (Deitch et al., 2000). An example of this category of studies is the study by Gottfredson et al. (2008). The study was conducted to determine the link between substance use and criminal activities through observing 157 subjects for a period of 11 months. Besides establishing the link between substance use and crime, the study was also concerned with finding out how drug treatment influenced both drug use and crime rates. In this study, Gottfredson et al. (2008) found out that increased drug use (cocaine and heroin) led to an escalation of income generating crime, but not violent crime. The study further showed that drug “treatment reduced rates of income generating crime, but had little or no influence on violent crimes” (Gottfredson et al., 2008, p.619). These findings are consistent with the findings of Wendel (2011) who carried out a study to establish the cause of reduced crime in New York City between 1981 and 2007. Wendel (2011) found out that in the same period (1981-2007), drug prices had considerably reduced. This implies that drugs were cheaper and could be afforded by many without having to commit acquisitive crime. In addition to this, with cheaper drugs, drug users are likely reel under heavy influence of drugs and may not be able to commit crime. The common ground between these two studies is that cocaine and heroin are the two drugs that escalate acquisitive crime any change in the consumption of the two manifests in the property crime patterns.

The findings of these two studies imply that drug users are involved in crimes that give them income to enable them to sustain their drug purchases. These findings shed more light on the idea that drug use affects different types of crimes to varying degrees as they clearly show that drug treatment negatively affects cocaine and heroin use thus reducing property crime (Gottfredson et al., 2008).

In a study conducted by Deitch et al. (2000), the relationship between drugs and crime is once again examined, but from a different perspective. The study focused on the variation of behavior among criminal drug users. Deitch et al. (2000) argue that since evidence overwhelmingly indicates that crime is related to drug use, there is a need to understand the issue of drug use from a biological perspective as well. Since the advent of the psychoanalytic philosophy, several other medical developments have transpired in the areas of genetic studies, neuropharmacology, and molecular biology and all these developments have together shown the need to approach the issue of drug use from a medical perspective. However, Deitch et al. (2000) challenge the idea of portraying biological treatment as the sole means through which drug treatment can be administered to criminal-drug users. They argue that the issue of linking drug users to crime and the form of drug treatment that can work best for each individual or groups is a matter of opinion. By making this assertion, Deitch et al. (2000) suggest that the different studies that have been conducted to this effect ought to have given similar results with only slight variations. Yet every scholar that conducts a study on this subject gives zealous opinions based on their findings without considering that their results were limited to the population of their studies.

This line of argument is also propagated by Blumstein and Wallman (2006) who espouse the idea that even though studies on the relationship between drugs and crime shows that the two are linked, it is not prudent for a scholar to authoritatively claim that his/her study is the most authoritative on the issue. By taking such a position on the issue of drugs and crime, Blumstein and Wallman (2006) encourage scholars to acknowledge any limitations that might be associated with their studies.

Deitch et al. (2000) proceed to explore the importance of drug treatment in criminals. They argue that the social cost of drugs varies, but generally, drugs cost society so much money, and thus this element should be the single most powerful motivation to society to incur costs for drug treatment rather than let them continue affecting members of society. The study established that the social cost of drugs transcends the costs spent by governments on medical health care. According to Deitch et al. (2000), this aspect makes it imperative to ensure that drug treatment is delivered to criminal drug-users. In so doing, the prevalence of crime will be reduced because its catalyzing agent the use of drugs will have reduced. Deitch et al. (2000) finally pose a simple question in which they ask which one between drugs and crime comes before the other. The question was asked in an attempt to understand if there is a causal link between these two. In addressing the question, they also give a simple answer in which they assert that both come drugs and crime first. Two-thirds (2/3) of evidence from many recent studies and first hand interviews they conducted showed that criminal activities preceded drug use (Deitch et al., 2000). Only about a third of the evidence pointed to the idea that drug taking comes before involvement in criminal activity. The figures obtained in this study were higher as compared to other related studies, which recorded that 50% of youth exhibited criminal behaviors prior to drug taking, 25% started taking drugs before involvement in criminal activity and in the remaining 25%, both drug taking and involvement in criminal activity started at the same time (Deitch et al. 2000).

These findings by Deitch et al. (2000) are consistent with the fourth explanatory model to the relationship between drug use and criminal activity. The model asserts that drugs and crime do not have a causal relationship, but they go hand in hand, as they share common causal factors (Gill et al., 2006). According to Makkai and Payne (2003), the common causal factors include temperament and deviant behavior among others. This model is in support of the idea that involvement in crime and drug taking are more or less linked to the innate characteristics of an individual. Such a line of argument agrees with McLellan (2003) who notes that not all drug takers get involved in criminal acts, which implies that although it is highly likely that an individual who is engaged in drug taking will also be involved in crime and vice versa, such is not always the case.

To depart from convention, Wendel (2011) indicates that there was a decline in crime due to an upsurge in drug use, in the city of New York. Most studies show a direct proportion in the relationship between drugs and crime, but in this study, the relationship exhibited an inverse proportion or a negative correlation. Wendel (2011) argues that there have been numerous attempts to explain the decline in crime in New York, but they all fail to factor in the influence that drug markets and prices could have on the prevalence of crime. Most of the existing literature on the subject of drugs and crime subscribes to Goldstein’s taxonomy of drug related violence where acquisitive crime is attributed to the need to fund drug use violence, which is attributed to either drug influence on an individual who is high or fights for territory, markets, or payment (Lawton et al. 2005).

This study is a departure from all these conventions as it explores a previously unexplored area. Wendel (2011) considered the idea that drug prices, which had notably reduced between 1981 and 2007, could be the cause of the reduction in crime. The main explanation behind such an assertion is that with reduced drug prices, there is less commission of crime to support drug use because the friendly prices probably fall within the means of the drug users even without committing crime. The claim is further supported by the realization that the price drops were only witnessed in drugs associated with property crimes such as cocaine, heroin, and crack as observed by Deitch et al. (2000).

The explanation offered by Wendel (2011) as to how the decline in the prices of cocaine and heroin led to the decline also subscribes to Goldstein’s models. The models hold that with a shrinking market in the New York City, the once powerful drug cartels that controlled the market lost interest and withdrew. Their withdrawal led to a reduction in violent crime since there were no lucrative markets to fight for or territories to control. This explanation makes sense in the light of Goldstein’s systemic model, which notes that violent crime emerging from drugs takes the form of fights by distributors over market territory control, fights over payment disputes, or simply robberies aimed at stealing drug money from distributors (Greenberg, 2013). Since these kinds of fights were not necessary anymore due to a shrunken market, crime went down. Luty and Luty (2001) note that the relationship between drugs and crime is complicated, but many studies that have been conducted broadly fall in the categories that have been reviewed.


In order to address the question of whether narcotics have an impact on crime and if so to which extent, the researcher employed appropriate educational research methods. The study incorporates both quantitative and qualitative statistical methods to ensure that it explores the topic of study exhaustively.

Study Population

The study population was primarily drug users who had been involved in criminal activities of some sort in one way or another. In a bid to access this group of people, the researcher sought data from the Dallas Police Department and specifically from the Narcotics Unit of the Dallas Police Department. The offenders arrested by this Unit formed the bulk of the study population. In addition to the arrestees, the study also incorporated a few residents of Dallas city who were interviewed at random on the streets of the city to find out if they had been involved with narcotics and crime. To cap all the information, first hand information was also sought from a narcotics detective from the Dallas police. This population was considered adequate for the study since there were three categories of respondents in the study who gave different perspectives on the subject of the study. The researcher was able to develop a clear concept of the relationship between crime and narcotics in the case of Dallas city. This assertion is founded on the fact that the arrestee data was examined thoroughly from different perspectives so that even if they did not get into direct contact with the researcher, the information obtained about them was adequately accurate.

Data Collection

The study was conducted in the Dallas city and was based on data collected between October 1, 2010 and September 18, 2012 from arrests made by the Dallas Police Department Narcotics Squad. The researcher also conducted random interviews in the streets of Dallas city in the period between November 1, 2013 and November 5, 2013. The researcher also arranged an interview with a Dallas Police Department Narcotics detective to augment the arrest data. Cases of homicide reported between January 2012 and October 4, 2013 were also incorporated into the study to determine if they bore any link to the use of narcotics.

The data collected for the study can be approached from four perspectives. These include the data that was mined from the Dallas Police Department on arrestees and their previous offence trends, the data on reported homicides and the data that was obtained from the interviews, that is, the interview with the detective and interviews with the city residents on the streets. To get a clear concept of what each category of data yielded for the study, the data was mined from the Dallas police department is divided into two sections and that from the interviews is divided into two sections. These four sets of data were thus collected using two data collection techniques namely interviews and data mining (secondary data collection) which involved the mining of desired data from both the narcotics and homicide police databases. All the four sets of data were used in quantitative terms to develop a clear concept of the narcotics-crime relationship in Dallas city in numerical terms since figures are easier to comprehend and generalize.

The structured interviews were aimed at assessing how drugs played a role in the escalation of crime in Dallas. The face-to-face conversations between the interviewees and the researcher provided a very good opportunity for the researcher to get first hand information on the subject of the study.

The interview with the narcotics detective served to add a perspective of the police force since they are involved in tussles with the criminals on a day-to-day basis and thus are aware of some facts that may not be given by the data obtained from the databases. It included the following questions : do you believe that drugs play a role in the crime you investigate, how many times a week do you investigate offense that are drug related, have you noticed a specific drug that correlates with the crimes committed, what is the average age of the suspect’s committing the crimes you investigate. The responses that were obtained were relevant to the study and helped in understanding the narcotics-crime relationship from the perspective of a detective.

The interviews with the city residents on the other hand were aimed at capturing what the views of the public on the issue were since they are the victims of the crime perpetrated by drug users. Additionally, they may also have been drug users at some point and thus could explain how the two variables are linked. Their responses were needed on the following questions how old they were, what narcotics they had ever used, did they ever commit crimes to purchase drugs, and were they high during the commission of any crime they perpetrated.

The data from the police databases was mined and thoroughly screened to yield the specific information that was required by the study. For instance, the information required from the arrestee data would determine if they had ever been arrested earlier with narcotics related crime and whether the crime was violent, acquisitive or both. Data was thus collected for 1,977 arrests made by the Dallas Police Department Narcotics Squad and compiled in a Microsoft excel spreadsheet. This data was collected and maintained by order of the Chief of Police to show the correlation of crimes associated with narcotics. In terms of the database that was maintained by the narcotics bureau. From the data, each arrestee was then researched to see if they had been previously arrested.

The data on homicides sought to establish if there was any link between the incidence of the homicide cases and the use of narcotics by screening all the reported cases and selecting those that were of interest to the study for purposes of making inferences and drawing conclusions. The Dallas Police Department Homicide unit needed to determine many factors on whether the offense was committed in relation to drugs. The problem with that was the numbers could fluctuate either way depending of their circumstances or the lack of determinates to be there to conclude if it was drug related or not. However, the data used was from 2010-2012 and was based on 300 homicide cases.

Statistical Analysis

Arrestee Data

The data on the arrestees was obtained from the narcotics database for the duration between October 1, 2010 and September 18, 2012. This exercise involved 1,977 arrests made by the Dallas Police Department Narcotics Unit within the specified period. A background check was run on each of the arrestees to determine if they had been previously arrested. The main reason for the background check was to find out if the previous arrests were also related to the use of narcotics. First step was to determine if they had been arrested previously. For those who had been previously arrested, the second step was to find out if violent crime was the reason behind the arrest. In the third step, the study sought to find out if property crime was the reason behind the arrest and finally the fourth step sought to find out if any previous arrests were related to both violent and the property crime.

The study results showed that of the 1,977 arrestees, about 40% (799) had never been previously arrested, about 37% (727) had been previously arrested for violent crimes and close to 50% (964) had been previously arrested for property crime. The results also showed that only 26% (522) had been previously arrested for both violent and property crime. It is important to note that the figures contain some overlaps because the previous arrest cases involved more than one arrest case, which implies that an individual could have been previously arrested more than one times with different reasons each time, but all the responses are incorporated into the study. The study also endeavored to factor in the race and gender of the respondents and it emerged that the majority of the arrestees were Blacks at about followed by Latinos and finally Whites. These results are graphically presented in figure 4.1 below.

Arrestees by Race.
Figure 1: Arrestees by Race.

According to the study data, male arrestees were also more than female arrestees were, as shown in figure 4.2 below.

Arrestees by Gender.
Figure 2: Arrestees by Gender.

Homicide Data

The homicide data obtained from the database was also sought to determine the relationship between reported homicides and narcotics. The data included homicide cases reported to the Dallas Police Department homicide unit between January 2012 and October 2013. Of the about 300 homicide cases that had been reported within the specified period, data was obtained on very few because investigations were still in progress on the rest.

In 2012, 154 homicide cases were reported, but only 48 cases were classified by the police as primary homicides and 7 cases as secondary homicides. The remaining figure accounts for all the cases that were still in progress as well as those that did not qualify as either primary or secondary homicide cases. In 2013, up to the time the study was terminated, 127 cases of homicide had been reported. Of the reported cases, 16 were categorized as primary cases of homicide and 12 as secondary homicide cases. Like the 2012 cases, many were still ongoing, and thus little data was provided.

Data from the Interviews with Dallas Residents

In a bid to obtain the perspective of the residents of Dallas on the study topic, interviews were conducted in the streets on 20 randomly selected individuals to eliminate any bias in the results. The questions they were expected to respond included; how old they were, what narcotics they had ever used, whether they ever committed crimes to purchase drugs and whether they were high during the commission of any crime that they perpetrated.

The study results showed that respondents who took part in the study were between 19 and 27 years of age. The most commonly used drugs by these respondents were heroin, commonly used by 7 out of the 20 respondents and methamphetamine, commonly used by 6 of the respondents. The results also showed that 4 of the respondents commonly used cocaine while the remaining 3 used prescription pills. All respondents admitted that they had committed a crime at one point to enable them get their drugs of choice and 8 of the 20 indicated that they were high at the time of committing the crime.

Data from the Interview with a Dallas Police Department Narcotics Unit Detective

Detective Justin Guinn of the Dallas Police Department Narcotics Unit was interviewed on October 30, 2013. The questions he was expected to respond to included do you believe that drugs play a role in the crime you investigate, how many times a week do you investigate offense that are drug related, have you noticed a specific drug that correlates with the crimes committed, what is the average age of the suspect’s committing the crimes you investigate.

He indicated that it was true that narcotics largely contributed to the crime they encountered as narcotics specialists. However, he pointed out that most of the drug-related crimes they witnessed were subject to drug dealers and not users. He pointed out the on every single workday, he as individual arrests or tries to arrest people for drug related crime. Asked if there were any specific drugs he could attribute the prevalence of crime to, he pointed out the heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine were “the worst of the worst and seem to make people lose inhibition.” However, he singled out heroin addicts along with “crack” users as being prone to property crime. Asked about the most common age bracket he noted that it is not easy to talk of a vulnerable age bracket because in the course of his work, he has encountered individuals of ages ranging from 12 years all the way 60 years. However, on second thoughts he pointed out that the most common age bracket in drug related crime is 19 to 35 years.


The study findings indicate strongly that narcotics escalate the crime rate in a city. The research hypothesis is thus affirmed as true because all the study data overwhelmingly pointed to the fact that drugs were responsible for some form of criminal activities that had been reported. The study also established Goldstein’s classification of types of crime caused by drugs holds and it can be used to explain the causative relationship between drugs and crime. Violent crime is largely perpetrated by drug dealers, at varying levels, in a fight for supremacy and market share. Property crime on the other hand is largely perpetrated by individuals who seek to sustain their drug use. This approach can be used to explain the reason why drug users conduct criminal acts because the bottom line of the study findings is that the use of drugs increases crime rates.


This study sought to determine if narcotics influence crime rates in a city. The data that was collected from the police databases as well as the interviews show that there is indeed a tangible relationship between drug use and narcotics.

The study findings were not isolated from existing literature in terms of defining the relationship between drugs and crime. The 40% of the arrestees who had never been previously arrested did not alter the results in any way. The fact that they were arrested the first time with narcotic related crime is a clear indicator that although they were first time offenders in this respect, chances were that it was just the beginning, but would have problems with the law later on. The study did not seek to establish how many cases were related to violent crime or property crime as was the case with previous arrests, but the message sunk home drugs had caused them to be arrested.

Most of the recidivists, close to 50% of the whole group, indicated that they had been previously arrested with property crime. This finding is in agreement with Zimring (2007) findings that drugs treatment notably reduced the cases of property crime. The study had focused on cocaine and heroin coupled with how they were affected by drug treatment, which ensured that individuals reduced or stopped their drug habits. The findings of this study also support the Goldstein (1985) model, which asserts that a category of drug related crimes takes place as the perpetrators seek to generate income to sustain their drug habits. Detective Justin Guinn pointed out in his responses that the type of crime he could attribute to a specific narcotic is property crime, which he largely attributed to cocaine and heroin addicts. He noted that the extent of these addicts’ influence by drugs to commit property crime is entrenched. They seek to stay high at all times to escape the reality of their situation because most of them do not even have homes.

The interviews that were conducted on the streets also espouse this position because all the interviewees who were aged between 19 and 27 years admitted to having committed a crime to get a drug. The age bracket is also in agreement with the detective’s estimate that the age bracket they mostly came across in drug related crime is that between 19 and 35 years albeit with exceptions. All the study data pointed to the idea that drugs influenced the commission of a crime.

The detective again hinted to Goldstein’s taxonomy on drug related crime when he said that the violent crime was not a common phenomenon among drug users, but rather drug dealers who were more often than not engulfed in systemic tussles including fights for territory, money and so on. At this point, the idea that drugs and crime cannot be adequately tackled without reference being made to Goldstein’s typology of drug related crime.

The idea of race and gender also featured prominently in the study. Most of the arrestees, according to the study data were Blacks, followed by Latinos, and finally Whites. These findings are consistent with Zimring (2007) who also notes that Blacks are more prone to drugs and consequent crime than other races. Males were far much more than women were and this aspect reflects the exact picture in society. Although the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (2003) notes that crimes perpetrated by women under the influence of narcotics are on the rise, they cannot rival men in this respect.


Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that drugs escalate the rate of crime and pioneer studies have already been carried out to demonstrate that drug treatment can reduce crime rates. More effort should be directed in this direction by enhancing drug treatment and seeking ways of improving it even further.


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