Coinciding crises: the effects of the police legitimacy and opioid crises on the culture of a specialized drug investigation unit

Jessica Frantz, Nicholas Michael Perez, Michael White, Aili Malm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: The police killing of George Floyd and other high-profile incidents of force sparked massive protests around the world. Amidst eroding public perceptions of police legitimacy, politicians and activists have sought to achieve systemic change. Over the past year, several cities in the United States have implemented various police reform initiatives, including reallocating resources, cutting budgets, and downsizing specialized units. As a result of these changes, the “defund the police” movement may have far-reaching consequences on police culture, especially within specialized units most affected by budget and resource changes. Furthermore, as fentanyl overdoses are surging and the American opioid crisis continues, specialized drug investigation units face a host of challenges in responding to increases in drug-related crime in the aftermath of “defund the police”. Therefore, this study aims to examine the experiences of a Drug Investigation Section in a large metropolitan city. Design/methodology/approach: This study uses data from semi-structured interviews conducted between October 2021 to May 2022. The results of this study provide a thematic analysis that explores the narcotics detectives' perceptions of key features of police culture, as well as how current challenges affect those perceptions. Findings: Key features of the police culture were noticeably absent from detectives' responses, including an overemphasis on danger, machismo, conservatism, and social isolation. Elements of cynicism, group solidarity, and a mission/action-orientation, did emerge. The context of “defund the police” did little to alter their perceptions, except for heightening cynicism and negative perceptions of politicians and prosecutors (a form of “us vs them”, but not involving citizens). The interviews also revealed various other changes that have occurred in recent years that have adversely affected the section's traditional investigative capabilities, especially with regard to illicit fentanyl distribution, though the addition of an intelligence analyst minimized those negative effects. Originality/value: This study adds to the scarce research on contemporary police culture in specialized units, especially in the aftermath of the “defund the police” movement, providing a glimpse into its context within a drug investigation section and its potential effects on police culture and narcotics investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-23
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 17 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug investigations
  • Fentanyl
  • Intelligence analysis
  • Narcotics
  • Police culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Public Administration
  • Law


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