Friday, April 16, 2010

Micro-Strategy for Drug Houses




“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

-Nelson Mandela


My neighborhood is in trouble. Over the last several months neighbors between the 500 & 700 blocks of Ferry Street have been exasperated by (3) drug houses, (2) open air drug markets, prostitution, a dramatic increase (also city-wide) of gang emergence and traffic and a house dominated by several gang members. Throw in a few foreclosures and the slew of issues we’ve had to face due to poor planning between the city and county surrounding the Juvenile Justice Center’s expansion and simply daily operations and a seriously neglected pocket park and you have a deadly cocktail for receding into blight and disorganization.

For some folks that have lived here much longer than I have I’m sure it is accepted simply as the ebb and flow of the city’s social paradigm—one that never seems to be able to get out of its own historic patterns of inner city dislocation. For others it’s time to talk about obtaining gun-carry permits and seriously consider moving.
 Many cities, including Easton, all too often fall into the trap of believing that unless large scale plans along with equivalent funding are written and awarded, it is not possible to tackle persistent issues like these. While EPD has already stepped up to the plate to work hard with residents to solve some of these problems it is simply not enough. It is also an unrealistic expectation of anyone to think they can.

Instead of working harder many other cities are they’re working smarter. Though some of the hurdles we face are beyond our control, others over the last year can be successfully intervened if managed differently. Typically police are notified of a problem house, some neighbors will gather some information and then collectively it is passed onto the appropriate parties in law enforcement. Then neighbors wait for something to happen and while having to endure the problem house(s) wreaking havoc.

Rather than being largely addressed by law enforcement, the problem could be tactically engaged by multiple city partners. By pulling together residents in the neighborhood, NHC Children’s social service if children are in the house, street intervention (like what I do a lot of and gather information and confront drug dealers and gangs) Code Department, Probation if the occupants have criminal records, family members and friends, churches, landlords, businesses Block Watch, Guardian Angels, Street Patrol, non-profits, Weed & Seed, Economic Development, school district and even the home/landlord owned insurance carrier a micro-strategy could be created to dismantle a drug house or even an emerging gang or existing one.

The key lies in leveraging the existing resources to build capacity around solving the problem. Multiple partners cross-pollinate not only to weed out the problem area but in the wake seed positive changes along with a fearful expectation by those who would perpetuate illegal practices of the same kind.

In the case of my neighborhood, we’ve contacted the landlords and Social Services because children are in some of the homes. Because I’m involved in street outreach/intervention I’ve personally confronted some of the actors not only for the sake of diligence but also to offer alternatives. We’re reaching out to Guardian Angels to patrol the area more specifically and I’ve contacted gang members to try to alleviate some of the problems and I’ve also been able to gather more detailed information. Neighbors are writing down license plates and taking pictures and the police have been informed and involved. Without going into detail the County has also been roped in for good reasons. A local business that is being affected will be in the mix and even family members and friends of some of the actors will be approached to help put pressure on the situations. The point is that the burden on EPD is minimized because it is being approached in the framework of shared responsibility.

This is by far not the first time an informal strategy has been created to tackle a problem. The city however could make this a formal strategy. Through this paradigm drug-infested houses have been resolved, gangs have been dismantled and people who need help have been offered and in some cases been radically changed for the better.

What would it take? The actors and stage are in place. What’s needed is someone in the capacity of a strategic role to be a common thread in order to weave participants together, collect information and create strategies. We’d also need street outreach workers, some already who are volunteering, trained by such a person.

What would it cost? Out of the gate, little more than the price of one seasoned, police officer’s salary/benefits and the courage to change the current course by adjusting the police budget (or others) to accommodate a strategic role and necessary resources—that’s the rub.

Will it work? Yes. Such strategies as this have worked in other communities and in Easton—though here it has been done largely outside of a recognized city-sanctioned effort.

EPD and city council are right (and grateful in my experience) to expect the help of citizens. But you know what? I want the help and resources of the city as well. I’d like to see citizens empowered through other more strategically inclusive means. By so doing we alleviate the burden on law enforcement, place greater responsibility on citizenry and organizations not only to act but leverage each other (isn’t that something we all say we want?) all instilling a greater confidence in residents as they see a new and effective and sustainable approach unfold before them.

But someone has to give and I think for the most part at this point it rests at the feet of city council. The decision council has to make is whether or not they are willing to redefine to a small extent what the budget accommodates for crime prevention and intervention. I get awfully tired of hearing the very phrase I was responsible for promoting region wide, “We can’t arrest our way out of…” without any clear demonstration that the money, resources and the methodology behind ‘arrests’ has been re-allocated or shifted to reflect authentic community-based crime reduction. We have to STOP saying ‘we don’t have the money’ while we DO have the money to pour into law enforcement. It’s not a matter of more funding it’s a matter of rerouting the funds we have. It’s not a matter of working harder it’s a matter of working smarter.

We all want to believe that we have the ‘right’ answer. No one is guiltier of parading his own agenda than me. The challenge for us is to admit that perhaps our current approaches while some being applauded, still need to be reordered to an extent. That’s why we have to embrace the successes of other communities even though they may be counter-intuitive, clash with our agendas or politically risky—change always has risk!

It would be awesome if rather than throwing yet another problem area onto EPD’s shoulders, knowing that the first line response still has to send a lot of the information along (for good reasons), I had someone to go to where I would be informed of how the issue would be addressed strategically, what community partners would involved and why and how I would be expected to participate and what the outcomes and time line may be.

We don’t need dozens of volunteers and inordinate amounts of money or resources to do this. In reality, this could be put into place immediately if the willingness to sacrifice and change exists.

HopeUnseen

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember reading about this small town in Mexico that was overrun w/ drug activity; eventually the people got sick of it and brutally beat the dealers. similar in Sicily, a town got sick of the mob activity and took matters into their own hands.
the US and Mexico are overwhelmed w/ fighting drugs. our problem is the same.
solutions?
*call out the slumlords who rent to these dirtbags. make it a law to do background checks.
*keep deconverting apartments. it would seem to me that the dealers aren't homeowners.
*effective code enforcement. force them to institute occupancy limits.
*shame the buyers. target, photograph, approach the buyers. without customers, the sellers will move on. problem is, dirtbags from NJ and whereever have it real easy coming to Easton to get their fix.
whatever it takes to make it inconvenient and uncomfortable for dealers to do business here.

peterkc said...

Terrence -

I agree that a cooperation among a combination of complementary approaches can build real strength in the community—and may be the only way to solve the type of problems you describe.

This is what a Weed & Seed-type program can do if it sets an over-riding goal of true community empowerment and revitalization and concentrates on uniting the people, organizations, and city services in pursuit of that goal.

Peter

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Terrence...There isn't anything in your scenario I can find fault with. If it were up to me I'd forego the next police hire in lieu of creating this coordinator position (and you would be running it). In any event, we both know what kind of rhetoric we'll run into at council meetings - I was at the last one in which you tried to put forth just such an idea and was met with the same old "can't do" attitude.

Putting the thumbscrews to council on this matter may require a similar public outpouring that has accompanied the recent school tax hike crisis...they started paying attention when people - armed with better ideas - swarmed their meeting hall.

Anon@11:56...It has a certain visceral appeal to imagine beating the crap out of these thugs as is done on foreign soil or following the often-heard refrains to deconvert more properties or drive out the absentee landlords...all well and good. But these things are often legally/socially unrealistic in practice and/or take forever so as to resemble putting out a forest fire with an eye dropper.

Once we get past the emotional response I'm sure you'd agree that some of your more mainstream approaches could be married to the broadbased, team-oriented response Terrence is proposing. Thus ending up with an organized, repeatable process that can significantly irradicate an ongoing problem while we impliment the changes you wish to see (code enforcement, etc.) and simultaneously (I hope) create a vision for better neighborhoods that needs to replace what we are trying to get rid of.

Peter...you mention a "Weed and Seed-type program" almost as if you don't think the current Weed and Seed program can do it. I won't put words in your mouth but the simple fact is that W&S has now been in Easton for a decade - with access to the same citizen pool of forward thinkers that Terrence represents - and we have nothing comparable to what he is proposing today.

Why not?

DRL

noel jones said...

It may be naive of me, but I really think that we are close to a tipping point, a point of urgency, where everyone will begin to "get it" at the same time, put aside the need for blame and credit, and simply become aligned as a community: independent citizens, faith-based organizations, local nonprofits, City Council, EPD, and Northampton County, all together. What is needed is for everyone to be invited to the table as sources of brainstorming and experienced advice, rather than asking everyone to come to a table in a volunteer capacity to be told what to do. The faith-based orgs of this city have been engaged in outreach for a long time--we need to invite pastors to the table and ASK them, not TELL them, what we should do. And we need to reallocate money earmarked for expanding and already great police department, to pay for part-time outreach workers and community liaisons--for the price of a new officer's salary, pension and health care, we can stretch that same taxpayer money for a lot of outreach and coordination between all community stakeholders.

We can DO this.

hopeunseen said...

Pete,

In theory the W&S program in Easton should be at least conducting research, studying trends, poking holes in UCR data and making it more comprehensive and objective, creating micro and macro strategies and building community resource capacity. I just don't see that happening in the future if history has taught us anything.

DRL -

Yeah, I'm not saying anything new or what more progressive thinkers have said for the last few years. The endless cycle needs a strategic intervention to eradicate these problems. I don't know what it will take. Perhaps your right, it may take an outpouring. I think that's a shame. I'd be for anyone who was a passionate strategic thinker that has the mustard to be in such a role.

Noel,

I don’t know if we’re headed toward a tipping point. At least for me I need to witness a demonstration of commitment to change. I can't bang my head against the wall anymore. EPD is doing a very good job. But I want to hear at least two council members say publically that they will fight to redefine what crime reduction is in the context of a community-based expression and commit to accommodating the current budget to make it a reality. The last time I spoke before city council I explained how, through a strategic intervention inclusive of multiple organizations, an emerging gang was dismantled, the actors involved voluntarily turned themselves in and how it led to restoring the families and youth involved with minimal investment on the part of EPD and little to no cost to the city. Not a single council member asked me that night or subsequently how it was done. There was something very wrong with the following silence.

Joanne said...

Noel, Nicely said.
We have some incredible knowledge and talent here.

Anonymous said...

Terrence
Could you explain to me why are people dealing drugs.And where are these drugs comeing from.Also if you are in a gang is it to only sell drugs.

Anonymous said...

As the coordinator of the Weed and Seed program for the past 15 months I can tell you that Weed and Seed has a committed group of numerous non-profits, county leaders, city representatives, business owners, school district representatives and residents creating a revitalization strategy for the West Ward community (See the 2009 Community Profile/data collected and Revitalization Plan/holes being plugged). There is a gang task force (Easton Area Violence Prevention Task Force/chaired by Pastor Sue Ruggles) that currently is IN the process of planning this strategy. Seems to me that the folks who keep posting blogs (with great ideas)here are not interested in "playing nice in the sandbox". You mention everyone coming to the table to strategize. Where are you all with these ideas when we are at these tables? If the meeting times do working with your schedule (they are at 4:00, saturdays and evenings)we can change them, or email us your proposal/idea and how you plan to implement it. Many of the folks that post articles here have great information and the capacity to partner with weed and seed to implement critical changes needed, however, that will not happen unless we are all on the same page. Im all for working smart and not hard and my belief is that by collaborating each brings to the table what we do best/expertise. I take it as an insult that as the site coordinator for the Weed and Seed program i do my best to attend every community meeting i can including many run by creators of this blog. I have yet to see any of these blog authors (except for Noel) attending (more than one or two) weed and seed meetings (there are 4 differnt opportunities each month). I would appreciate if you would please refrain from passing judgement until you have come to the table with the group that you reference "making no significant changes after a decade of work". It only tarnishes the good work and efforts we HAVE done in this decade (including crime being at it's LOWEST in 4 decades). Until you have attended current Weed and Seed meetings, given you information and then asked for support and worked out the logistics (like publicity, money and time) please refrain from passing judgement. Weed and Seed is always willing to listen to and support strategies that will make the neighborhood a better place to live.
I would like to add that... Summer Nights recreation program is gearing up to begin, offering food and positive asset building opportunities for those youngsters who would otherwise be on the streets EVERY night over the summer. ANYONE that is interested in volunteering to take a night at the park to provide activities/food will be included. City council has stepped up to the plate as well as a few faith based organizations and many of the non-profits and businesses. This year We are looking for opportunities to offer older "teens" (14-20) some constructive programs etc... so that they will have opportunites for positive interaction as well. If anyone would like to volunteer to reach out to the teems every night during the program when they are hanging out on the outskirts of the park with nothing better to do the opportunity awaits. It's a good place to start. If we can come together during the summer nights then maybe then we can take it to the streets all year long.

Anonymous said...

Above posted by
Laura Accetta
Weed and Seed Site Coordinator
laccetta@easton-pa.gov

El Warner said...

I'm not opposed to the type of process you recommend, Terrence, nor am I necessarily opposed to the City creating such a position in lieu of a new police hire. Before I could speak more forcefully in favor of this, however, I'd need to see a real proposal come from all parties involved: community, County, EPD, administration, non-profits. I'd need to know that buy-in exists on all fronts, so that a "formalizing" of this approach would be effective.

Perhaps you can do a presentation on this to the Public Safety Committee, or the Gang Intervention Task Force? You're always welcome to address Council as a whole, but the committee structure is in place as a starting point for proposals like this.

hopeunseen said...

Anonymous,

According to the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) about 1-in-4 members of gang are actively involved in drug solicitation. The myth is that all or most gang members are. The primary reasons for gang involvement are social not criminal. Most youths join gangs out of a need for identity and a need for control and power. The vast majority of gang members come from fractured families. Gangs become a type of sub-cultural family providing a deep need for identity. Also, when a child has no control over the fractured circumstances they are experiencing within their family (no father/in prison, raised by a family member not parents, addiction, foster care, poverty, frequent relocations in home/community/school districts, etc.) they lack the necessary family and social bonding for a healthier life. This often leads them to ‘control,’ through power, what circumstances they can. Nearly all gang members display the characteristics of ‘attachment and bonding disorder.’ You’ll find many of the same traits in adopted children. Lastly, they join because the gang provides basic necessities such as food, clothing, protection and friendship.

People deal drugs for a number of reasons including the enormous profits they can make. Some are users themselves and deal in order to use those profits to sustain a personal addiction. Some justify it as a viable way to create revenue to care for their families. In a global context it is often a matter of economic survival.

Drugs are grown, harvested, manufactured, cooked and distributed into our city from abroad, other states, the region, locally and in internally from houses in our midst. Cocaine/crack comes from South America. In Easton it is about 75% pure or more and consumed largely by 20 and 30 year olds. Most of our heroin is from Asia. Cannabis is grown around the world and an increasing trend is ‘hydro’ that can be grown indoors. An average heroin addict will shoot at least 5-7 times a day. Meth can be cooked anywhere even in a car. Then an assortment of other drugs and club drugs exist not to mention what can be found in any home’s bathroom cabinet.

The trend in Easton seems to be mirroring Philadelphia and larger metro areas where the cities are becoming more like ‘distribution’ centers where buyers from the suburbs purchase quantity then sell back into the burbs. One of the indicators that may support this is the change in the gangs. We’re seeing older gang members who often represent the stronger and therefore more nationally recognized ‘power gangs.’ Typically about 30% are involved in felony activity including drug dealing and related crime.

We’re also facing the dynamics of migration from our larger metro centers into the city that while should be welcomed also attracts drug dealers because they can make higher profits than the more competitive densely populated areas. The prison dumps many non rehabilitated addicts (the overwhelming reason for crime in NHC) back onto the streets of our cities and friends and family with equally exploitive intent move or are frequent visitors. But make no mistake many buyers are from middle class families coming from our surrounding communities.

David Caines said...

I am of course thrilled that EPD is getting another officer, and it was this issue that started our involvement in local politics.
As to W+s I attended several meetings, about two years ago and abandoned the group as a complete waste of time, though perhaps things have changed, it may be worth looking into.
On a side note, it looks as though Pa at long last has a "Castle" law. As opposed to the duty to retreat that we have otherwise lived under to this point, this alone makes huge waves of stress roll off of my shoulders and I'll be curious as to its long term effects on crime here in Pa and Easton in particular. Yes folks Pa has finally decided that our lives have some value, more on that once I can find and read the statute.
Still a big win for non-criminal citizens.
As to the overall strategy, we support both intervention, and arrest. It's also nice to see that the Mayor and the city are keeping their promises to increase the EPD's numbers.
Thanks,
David

Anonymous said...

I agree that we all need to work together to conquer these issues in our ward but we do have some tools to use that our existing ordinances cover.

For example, under ordinance 5091 which amended the Residential Rental Licensing and Inspection Article 1727, the following was adopted.

Section 1727.03(e) (2) "The owner and occupant shall not include text in a rental agreement that is contrary to the provisions of this article and shall insert such provisions herein,such as grounds for eviction based on violations of the disruptive conduct provisions."

Section 1727.03 (h) states

Eviction. " In the event there are two determinations of guilt for conduct by any occupant or guest determined to be "disruptive conduct" as set forth in Section 1727.02 (a)- (e) in a regulated rental unit during the course of any period of 24 consecutive months; the owner is to begin eviction proceedings of the tenant(s) by providing Notice to acate within 15 days of receipt of the 2nd notice of a guilty determination.".........

What this means is that if we keep reporting drug houses,loud music, etc to the police and they get two guilty determinations from the magistrate or court, the owner will be notified to start eviction proceedings. We need to continue to use the great police officers we have.

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