1993 Finalist
City of Oakland, California
Innovations in American Government
Innovations in American Government

The use of residential houses for the marketing of illegal drugs has serious implications for the vitality and viability of America's urban communities. Although this problem is generally assumed to affect only inner-city neighborhoods, drug marketing is an entrepreneurial exercise that invades middle-class, as well as low-income, areas. The violence and crime often associated with the illegal drugs trade endangers community residents contributes to a pervasive sense of insecurity. Such was the feeling in Oakland, California which, in 1992, had one of the highest homicide rates in the country. The Oakland Police Department attributed the majority of this violence to drug trafficking. At the time, approximately five thousand drug houses were estimated to be active in the city of Oakland.

Safe Streets Now! (SSN) is a grassroots volunteer drug abatement program that empowers neighborhood groups to work towards clearing their communities of drug traffic. Under the guidance of a SSN community organizer, neighbors team-up with police and other local law enforcement officials to document observed drug use and trade on neighborhood properties and the impact it has on the community. Neighbors then confront the property owner with the documented proof of the tenant's illegal activity, and demand that the tenant is either evicted or enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program. If the property owner refuses to act on the evidence, every single neighborhood resident is entitled to sue the property owner for five-thousand dollars in Small Claims Court on the grounds of causing a public nuisance.

Since SSN's founding in 1989, two-thousand citizens have been trained in the program's data collection techniques. SSN neighborhoods have closed down over two-hundred and fifty drug houses and its teams have been awarded over seven-hundred and sixty thousand dollars in judgments against property owners. Crime rates have dropped by sixty percent in targeted Oakland neighborhoods without any of the feared retaliations against SSN members.