Anit-drug billboards send message to dealers

Operation: “Frying Pan”

In the fall of 1998 Green Bay neighborhoods experienced an outbreak of crime associated with the distribution and use of crack cocaine. This highly addictive drug was taking over our neighborhoods, fast. Traditional methods of policing did little to slow the infiltration of unscrupulous drug dealers. Police working with community leaders and residents employed new and innovative techniques to stop crack in it’s tracks. 

By spring of 1997, seven major suppliers of crack cocaine were arrested. One of the largest crack cocaine distribution rings ever to do business in Green Bay had been broken up following a 6 month investigation. The investigation began with neighborhood beat officers and was forwarded through a cooperative effort between the Brown County Drug Task Force,

the State of Wisconsin D&E and the Brown County District Attorney’s office. Unfortunately, several people had become addicted to cocaine during this time period. Following these arrests, our focus changed to prevent others from coming in and filling the void created by arresting the crack dealers. 

Using a multi-phased approach, police reduced the comfort level office drug dealers. Since cocaine is a commodity that is bought and sold, we learned that it is subject to market forces. The only law drug dealers seem unable to break is the law of supply and demand.

In November of 1999 officer Steve Scully and I traveled to the Problem Oriented Policing Conference in San Diego, California. While at the conference we saw a program that was successful in reducing open air drug trafficking and the crime that is associated with it. The program, called “Operation: Hot Pipe, Smokey Haze”, detailed how police officers enlisted the aid of marketing executives to attack cocaine in a way that was unconventional. As stated earlier, cocaine, like any other product, is subject to market forces. If demand is low the price drops. Persons committing crimes to obtain money for drugs have a reduced need to commit crimes. 

The San Diego police began with an ad campaign directed at dealers and users. The messages were posted in bus stops which, in San Diego, seemed to be a hub for drug activity. San Diego police employed a response that destroyed the safe environment cocaine smokers and dealers enjoyed. After implementing the project, forty five percent of business owners in the area reported an increase in business.

Officer Scully and I felt the program could be adapted to our community in an effective way. When we returned from San Diego we met with Officer Dave Swanson who works in the downtown business district. Together we came up with several ideas to try in our neighborhoods. 

The first thing we did was produce a small sign (8 1/2”X 11”) on blue card stock which you will find included with this proposal. The sign reads, 

“If you’re living by the rules in our neighborhood, we’re protecting you. If you’re selling drugs, we’re hunting you”.

This sign started out with a few copies produced on our computer and was distributed in mid December of 1998. We put the signs up in apartment buildings and in businesses where drug trafficking was occurring. In a few days the demand for the signs grew so much that we had to go to the city print shop and order 500 of them. Neighborhood residents and businesses put them in their windows. One resident who lived next to a drug house took and extra sign and put it in the window that faced the drug house.

During a drug interdiction traffic stop in January 1999, one of the occupants of the car lamented to the others, “I told you, they got signs that say they’re hunting us”.

In January 1999, Officer Dave Swanson met with the director of Green Bay Transit, Ron McDonald, to explore the possibility of putting the signs up in city busses. By May of 1999 an area paper company, Fort James, had donated the materials and printed up several hundred of our signs. The new signs were a larger version designed to fit in a track system inside the city busses. By June of 1999 our message appeared in over 40 city busses. We got some very positive publicity in the local media. (See attached news clippings)

In February 1999 community-policing officers met with Sue Todey and members of the Green Bay Area Drug Alliance to discuss a partnership in this project. During our discussions we decided to move the project forward by putting similar messages on billboards.

On February 22, 1999 Sue Todey and several community-policing officers met with Bill Schroeder and Pat Jelen of Orde Adverstising. We explained our ideas and got an enthusiastic response from Bill and Pat. On June 24th we unveiled several billboard designs at a press conference at which the project was dubbed, “Operation; Frying Pan”. The premise being that we are turning up the heat on drug dealers.

On August 9, 1999 our first billboard was unveiled on Interstate highway I43. Now drug dealers traveling to Green Bay from Chicago and Milwaukee could see that they were driving into unfriendly territory. We received several positive comments from the public following a press conference. Within a few weeks Beatrice Jeanquart, a Door County resident and neighborhood watch coordinator, liked the idea so much that she started a similar project in Door County.

Over the next few months, area business leaders and neighborhood residents contributed money to put up more billboards. In November of 1999, a second billboard was posted at “Terry’s EZ GO” gas station located at Broadway and Mather Streets. The station’s owner donated the space for the billboard which now proclaims,

“Drug Dealers, It’s you’re turn to be scared”

This billboard stands about 8 feet tall and 17 feet wide in an area that was plagued by open air drug trafficking only a year ago. On December 14, 1999 Officer Scully and I met with the owner, Terry. Terry stated that he once had a problem with people loitering in the lot. He stated he would often check on occupied cars and the people would tell him, “I’m just waiting for someone”. Terry states that this activity no longer occurs and things have quieted down quite a bit.

In September 2000 Steve Scully and I were invited to give a presentation to police officers in the United Kingdom. Two police officers from Seaford in the Southern part of England adopted the poster idea and have begun displaying similar posters in their community. The English version features a picture of handcuffs with the message, “Seaford’s Criminals, one size fits all”. 

Can a few billboards stop drug activity? No. We do believe however that an aggressive marketing campaign can reduce drug dealing, drug use and the crime that is associated with it. When coupled with aggressive enforcement and involvement of the community this campaign can and will make a difference in Green Bay. It’s our way of saying, NOT HERE !

Lt. Bill Bongle
Green Bay Police Department