Drop-A-Dime Project Pays Off
Through an anonymous hotline, a community lessens drug traffic and related violence. DEFEATING DRUG DEALERS
GEORGETTE WATSON can tell you where to get drugs. If you want amphetamines, go to East Boston. Angel dust, South Boston. Mescaline, marijuana, coke, barbituates ... But she's no enterprising drug informant - she's one of the ``good guys.''Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Watson is the president and cofounder of Drop-A-Dime, a 24-hour anonymous-tip hotline in Boston. Its success in working with communities and police against drugs and crime has made it a national model.
The citizen-based organization was founded six years ago in response to growing illegal drug activity and related violence in the Roxbury area. Watson, a community activist, saw that neighborhood residents knew about the drug scene and wanted it stopped, yet were fearful that calling the police might bring retribution from dealers and users. Also, there was a feeling of distrust between residents and police.
A liaison was needed between the people and the police that guaranteed anonymity. So Watson and her friend the Rev. Bruce Wall set up Drop-A-Dime in 1983 with just one phone and an answering machine. Then they spread the word through public relations efforts and demonstration activities. When calls about illegal drug activity came in (``few and far between'' at first, says Watson), they would forward the information to the police.
Here's how it works: people in the Boston area call 427-DIME and give detailed information about illegal activity: descriptions of persons involved, vehicles, locations. Reports are compiled and sent to the police.
The police department then investigates and gives a neighborhood report to Drop-A-Dime as feedback and documentation.
``We're able to go one step beyond 911 in regards to working with people,'' says Watson. Here, they can find out how police responded to their call.
Today the nonprofit Drop-A-Dime project has several phone lines, its own office, a paid staff of three, and 16 volunteers. It serves as a trustworthy communication tool between the community and police. Not only do reports reach police within 24 hours, they are also faxed or sent to affiliated law-enforcement agencies - the Federal Drug Task Force, for example - which look at the bigger picture.
The watchdog's success has prompted the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (NCNE) to investigate its possible adaptation nationwide.
``We know it works in Boston,'' says Pam Taylor, spokeswoman of NCNE in Washington, D.C., which is conducting an inventory on the most adaptable neighborhood-based programs warring against illegal drugs. ``We believe that this kind of effort, with this kind of community commitment, can work in communities with the same kind of problem all over the country.''
But Georgette Watson is looking even farther into the national telescope. ``The ultimate goal is that I'd like to see a national grass-roots tracking information data bank,'' she says, during an interview in her cramped office lined with awards.
Watson, a mother of three, is now at the helm of Drop-A-Dime (also known as Drop-A-Dime/Report-A-Crime), as Mr. Wall resigned in 1985 to focus on other efforts. She credits much of Drop-A-Dime's success to a dedicated staff and cooperation from the community and the Boston Police Department. There are similar tip lines around the US, says Watson, but ``they don't have a police relationship like we do.''