U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Neighborhood Drug Arrest Rates: Are They a Meaningful Indicator of Drug Activity? A Research Note

NCJ Number
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Volume: 40 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2003 Pages: 123-138
Date Published
May 2003
16 pages

This study examined the extent to which data for drug trafficking were reflective of the actual level of drug activity in those neighborhoods or were systematically associated with variance in neighborhood structural characteristics.


Using survey data from approximately 35 residents in each of 66 neighborhoods from 2 cities in a Southern State, this study attempted to provide an indicator of drug activity independent of arrest data. The approach taken is that while drug arrest data are not likely to be synonymous with the level of drug activity within a community, they may be indicative of activity that is most harmful to the community. The dependent variable in the study was arrest rates for drug trafficking. Neighborhood residents were treated as informed observers of their neighborhoods to obtain a survey measure of visible drug trafficking. The findings suggest that arrest rates for drug trafficking are reasonably valid indicators of the relative level of visible drug trafficking among neighborhoods. They also provide evidence that drug trafficking arrest rates correspond very highly with residents’ reported levels of visible drug trafficking in their neighborhoods. The finding also indicate that drug trafficking arrest rates are not significantly affected by the level of neighborhood disadvantage once the level of visible drug trafficking is statistically controlled. The empirical support of drug arrest data can be important for further development of the understanding of how community characteristics are related to crime and informal social control of crime. Appendix and references

Date Published: May 1, 2003