About five years ago, Charleston, S.C., police chief Reuben Greenberg deduced that traditional strategies to fight drugs in the street weren't working. The police couldn't keep drugs from coming in. Roundups of suspected drug dealers took a lot of manpower and kept the dealers off the streets for only a few hours. So, Chief Greenberg - who is quickly becoming a celebrity - decided to attack the street dealers in a new way.
He treated them as small businessmen. And he began to disrupt their businesses.
A single patrolman started to follow street dealers regularly. The policeman was uniformed, on foot, and very much in evidence several feet away. And the police department began to notice some interesting things, Greenberg says. For example:
A dealer's customers usually avoid making a drug buy when they know a policeman is watching.
A dealer is restricted to a very few blocks because his customers have to find him.
The dealer doesn't have to be shadowed all the time, since most of his business takes place between 4:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. Nor did the department try to shadow him every day, only a couple of days a week - enough to make it unprofitable for him to deal drugs.
``What we do is go out and destroy their business,'' says Greenberg, who claims that burglary and armed robbery here - crimes often related to drug abuse - hit lows in 1988 not seen in 20 or 30 years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports don't have the 1988 figures, but do show an overall decrease in the city's crime index of 31 percent between 1982 and 1987. The national figure for the same period increased by 4 percent.