Do cops know where all the drug fronts in town are?

If you ask people who live in a neighbourhood, most of them have a good idea about what local businesses are probable drug fronts. I’m sure some of the time people are mistaken due to an overactive imagination but when actual front businesses are busted, it’s not like it was ever a surprise to the people living nearby.

So given how obvious drug fronts are to normal people, do the cops all know exactly where all the drug fronts in a city are but can’t or won’t do anything about them or is it actually hard for police to figure out what businesses are fronts? If police do know which businesses are fronts, why are the fronts so openly able to flaunt the law?

The people who are mistaken some of the time?

Cops need evidence. Most of the drug busts I read about here are residences, not businesses, and they are busted due to evidence of high traffic and short visits provided by neighbors. That gives the cops enough for a search warrant.

High traffic and short visits are virtually the definition of a business, though.

Did I wander into an episode of Starsky and Hutch? Most drug sales do not occur this way.

Drug fronts aren’t for selling drugs, they’re for laundering the money that comes from a drug sale.

So how do the neighbors know that is happening? And how are the police supposed to know?

Q: How would people tell them & be taken seriously?
You can’t just get all “Skald Hypothetical” / Robert Ludlum and say,

(long boring hypothetical spoiler boxed; save yourself the TL;DR)

"See that park over there? The one with street exits like a peace sign? The reason there is a gray haired old white lady on each bench with a canvass tote bag, an iPhone in her lap, ear pieces in her ear who seems to be texting all day isn’t because Nana wants a tan.
Run their IDs and you’ll find they all have really long NY rap sheets and a long history of being look-outs for criminal organizations out of state.

See those white yuppies at the dog park? That’s where the money changes hand via cell phones. Pretty soon two ladies with little dogs and canvass tote bags are going to get up from there and stretch their legs around the park until they get to a parked car on the other side.
Its usually the one parked with the guy in business casual or a collar shirt-and-tie behind the wheel. He’ll open the back doors for them, like he was expecting them & they’ll get in with their dogs. Fifty feet away from the curb they’ll either drop the “package” out of their tote bags
into his empty carry bag in the back seat or they’ll pick up a package out of his bag and stuff it into their tote bag(s). The driver will drive them to their car, parked a block away from the park, or maybe just on the other side, and they’ll say good bye like it was Easter Dinner
at a Cousins house. Maybe the driver will take a bag out his trunk and hand it to them. Then, they’ll all be on their way.

Maybe sometimes the exchanges are at some lockers by some tennis courts. Maybe sometimes the money changes hands between “mommies” with kids playing on the playground. Maybe sometimes its just an exchange of car keys (they’ll swap them back the next shipment/day) assuming its nice weather.

No one is stupid enough to mess with the two old ladies with little dogs & tote-bags, especially since each has a Glock loaded & cocked under a folded newspaper at the bottom of their tote bag. Tomorrow morning, that package will be in a brief case carried by a suit direct connecting on Conrail into Manhattan.
Guns? Drugs? Who knows? Its protecting that constant pipeline through a park that nearly connects to several major highways that matters, and if the surrounding town seems to be suddenly swarming with all sorts of out of state plates.
Its just good for business: Somebody has to sell them lunch and gas.

If there ever seems to be any threat to the old ladies, as if by magic some three-car-teams of tattooed hoods in modified Corollas will suddenly start circling that end of the park. Guys who can bench 350 but each with blue handicapped stickers hanging from their rear mirrors
with no need to guess that they’re packing a LOT more than just a Glock under the seat. Its why no rival groups try to rip them off. And if police are seen walking around, some a little old lady on a bench will smile and post a word onto some site on Facebook and it will all shut down for the rest of the day.

Someone could suggest that they take some K9 units for walks by some of the train platforms from 5-9 AM during the morning rush. Someone could suggest that having a few plain clothes walk K9 unit dogs for 2 laps around the park a couple of times a day during the summer might be a good idea.

But here’s the thing: There Is No Such Park & Robert Ludlum always wrote better. But seriously, even if you had perfect knowledge the simple truth is that you can’t tell cops shit. They tell YOU.

And that’s that.

The neighbors know because they see a lot of people coming and going. Normal people don’t get multiple visitors every day. The neighbors notice, because they’re paying attention. The police know because the neighbors call them and tell them there is something fishy going on. Cops send an undercover car, they watch the traffic going in and out. Bob’s your uncle.

Neighbours know because it’s a business that remains open for many years despite never having any customers or merchandise and the staff don’t seem happy to make a sale. A friend of mine had a Manillan grocery store across the road that she was pretty sure was a drug front. She went in one day to buy some milk and all the dairy was at least a month expired.

How is it a “drug front” if it never has customers? Isn’t the point of a “front” that it provides a stream of good money that some anonymous bad money can be slipped in to? If nobody ever actually buys any milk, and no deliveries of milk are made to the store, then nothing is actually hidden, right?

99% of these “fronts” are just crappy businesses. Most businesses fail and it’s usually because the owners suck at it. I don’t think people understand just how bad people can suck at running businesses while still thinking they have their heads above the water. Sometimes reality doesn’t hit until all the money is gone, all their family’s money is gone, they’re deep in debt and the sheriff is taking stuff away in trucks to be sold at auction.

If you’re making a whole lot of clean money to hide a little bit of dirty money in, then why bother with the dirty money? It’s a lot of risk for not much payoff. What you really want is something where you can make a little bit of clean money for only a little bit of effort, but which you can claim is a whole lot of clean money.

There are some related threads on here. This is one of them.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=707884&highlight=fronts

Maybe it’s to hide the electricity bill for their grow lights. Maybe it’s so they have an excuse to drive a truck up to the loading bay once a week to resupply. Maybe it’s an excuse to have ten employees enter the back room each morning to work. Laundering money is certainly one reason for a drug operation to own a seemingly legitimate business, but it’s not necessarily the only one.

FLOUT the law.

I don’t that is by Ludlum, since he died in 2001, before the iphone was invented.

The closest thing I’ve ever heard to a “drug front” business are certain strip clubs in Detroit. These businesses are only “strip clubs” by outward appearance but function as brothels.

Take this story, for example. Cake shop that had been open for at least 3 years, only ever had 2 cupcakes on display, doesn’t provide a receipt unless you specifically ask for one. I bet if you asked the neighbours, most of them would have strongly suspected something shady was going on with that store and probably guessed it was a drug front. If you google “drug front money laundering busted”, stories like this come up all the time.

So was it that the police genuinely had no idea until just a few months before the bust or did they know from the very start but they couldn’t do anything about it until they had some circumstance that allowed them to bust the store? It seems odd to me that drug fronts are such an open secret within communities with nothing happening to them for years.

I suppose that the cops sometimes like to know where these places are - especially if they are not getting complaints. Easy then to observe who comes and goes and gain intel about the local criminals.

Every now and then, they will bust one, just so the plebs know that their police force is on top of the game. In reality they know very well that they only ever get a few low-level operatives, and the business will just pop up elsewhere. If they really clamped down, it would make little difference - there is always a way.

But the cake shop wasn’t a drug front. Have you not read the story? Not only did the shop not generate any significant cash flow, but the couple also filed returns showing that it didn’t generate any significant cash flow. There is nothing in the article to suggest that they made any pretence that their earnings came from the cake shop.

If a drug front is for laundering the money that comes from a drug sale, then it needs to have high cashflow. Not high profits, necessarily; it can make a loss. But it needs a high turnover - in cash, not in credit cards or electronic transactions. That way, the cash generated from the illegal business can be concealed in the larger flow of cash generated by the busy-but-not-very-profitable front business.

It may be true that “everybody knows” that that shop over there that never does any trade is a drug front. But the police don’t raid it because they doubt that it’s a drug front, precisely because it never does any trade, and therefor wouldn’t be much use as a drug front.

Lord Feldon has it. If a business - particularly a retail business - never seem to do much trade, the parsimonious explanation for this is that it’s badly run. Perhaps it’s a small business that used to do better, but the owner has lost a bit of enthusiasm or energy, and things have slipped. As long as the business isn’t burdened with debt, and the owner’s circumstances don’t require him to draw a large income from it, such a business can often bumble on for years with mininal turnover.

Finally, I should add that if you do want to raid a business that you suspect is a drug front, you don’t turn up with sirens and guns and a batttering ram to break into the premises. What are you expecting to find there that will show it’s a drug front? You want to look at the accounts, and the bank records, and the filings, so those are what you chase. No guns or sirens or early-evening-news-friendly footage required. If a business is being examined in this way, it’s very unlikely that the neighbours are going to be aware of the fact.

My apologies. I should have known you wouldn’t be posting frivolously.

I buy drugs on occasion. It’s pretty clear most people posting here haven’t.