Sunday, April 5, 2015

From poppy fields to parking lots

Grocery store parking lot used for open-air drug deals

Zoom in for tight close-up 
Scene 1: Non-descript parking lot next to a grocery store 

Not long ago I was standing in the rain in front of a grocery store next to a country-side highway on an island in Washington State. I had been asked how CPTED might fix open-air drug deals in the parking lot. I was assessing sightlines, lighting, and access.

“What drugs are they dealing?” I asked the frightened storeowners.

“Black Tar Heroin. It’s happening all along the Island highway, not just here.”

Black Tar Heroin! The name conjures images of wealthy executives sneaking expensive drug habits into their secret lives. And how did $200-a-gram heroin (the most addictive drug anywhere) replace meth and crack as a street drug?

Zoom out for establishing shot
Scene 2: The I-5 Interstate freeway on the U.S. west coast 

This island highway is a short ferry ride from the I-5 just north of Seattle. The I-5 corridor is the main transport spine along the US west coast from Mexico to the Canadian border.

I discovered that Mexican drug cartels produce this Black Tar Heroin in response to the government crackdown on over-prescribed opiods like Vicodin and Oxycontin. That crackdown cut off suburban addicts from their over-prescription pipeline and created an expanding market for heroin. These addicts prefer an opiod high unlike Meth (though island cops say some now combine both). The perfect opiod replacement? Heroin!

Global routes for heroin - not a local problem

Zoom further out for overhead shot
Scene 3: The Sinaloan coastal plains, north-western Mexico

Mexican cartels use profits to hire chemists and create heroin mills with the latest technology that cuts production costs. My drug cop contacts tell me that over the past few years street heroin dropped from $200 to $30 per gram. Suddenly an isolated parking lot looks like a perfect marketplace for dealers up and down the island.

The 1-5 corridor links San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle on the same route. The island parking lot in which I’m standing is a short ferry ride from I-5. It is the perfect storm for drug routes.

Where do cartels get such a large supply of opiods?

Zoom out for panorama shot
Scene 4: Afghanistan's poppy fields

For decades 80% of the world’s heroin came from Afghanistan’s poppy fields. Opium derives from poppy seed pods. With the Taliban takeover, poppy growing was eradicated (probably the only useful outcome of that era). After the Taliban fled, poppy production soared.

Today Afghanistan is once again a majority producer of poppy seeds. Farmers there and drug runners here have opened whole new heroin markets.

I had no idea a wet grocery store parking lot would typify an expanding street heroin scene across the country. But that is exactly what is happening.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. Hi Greg, a case of crime displacement due to changes not associated with space in question (car park). My query is what where your recommendations to the people who got you there? Thanks Glenn

  2. Excellent question, one that should take top billing in all CPTED work and training (but too seldom does).

    There is a three step process in SafeGrowth.

    First I recommended 1st Gen CPTED tactics to enhance safety at the crime site. That's the simple part.

    Second I advised them to monitor displacement down the road and recommended 2nd Generation CPTED social programming to cut the demand.

    Third to improve the wider community response for the whole island and put all these things together, I recommended formation of a Island SafeGrowth Team and an action plan like the one's we teach in SafeGrowth. You'll find examples on the Toolkits link on right side of the landing page of this blog. Click in there and go to the free downloads at the bottom. You'll see plans from other communities there.


Please add comments to SafeGrowth. I will post everyone except posts with abusive, off-topic, or offensive language; any discriminatory, racist, sexist or homophopic slurs; thread spamming; or ad hominem attacks.

If your comment does not appear in a day due to blogspot problems send it to and I'll post direct.