Pubdate: Thu, 08 Feb 2001
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2001 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Contact:  PO Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA  19101


Camden Landlord Eyes Empty Homes

Associated Press

A longtime activist who studied the correlation between Camden's open-air 
drug markets and property foreclosures says the main reason residents flee 
the city is the presence of illegal drug corners.

Frank Fulbrook says the government will never win the war on drugs, so it 
should regulate, not ban, their sale.

Fulbrook, 51, a city landlord, analyzed the locations of the city's 181 
open-air drug markets and property tax foreclosures over the past 13 years.

He found that 78 percent of the 1,167 properties that were foreclosed upon 
were within one block of a long-term, open-air drug market. More than half 
were within half a block of the drug areas.

Fulbrook surveyed city property tax records from Jan. 1, 1987, until June 
30. He chose 1987 as a starting point because nearly all of the city's 
open-air drug markets were in place by 1986, when crack cocaine became 
popular in the city, he said.

Working with the Police Department, he showed where drug markets had been 
closed down by law enforcement, and where new markets opened. Since 1996, 
for every market that was shut down, about two have opened, he said. Most 
often, dealers simply set up shop a block or two away from the old market, 
he said.

"In this way, the devitalizing impact moves from place to place. One 
neighborhood's gain is another neighborhood's loss," he said.

Fulbrook said his study shows that the drug markets preceded the abandoned 
properties, not the other way around. Many of the newer drug markets have 
been established in viable neighborhoods, not near clusters of foreclosed 
properties, he said.

Fulbrook acknowledged that crime and the exodus of industry also have been 
responsible for the decay of Camden and other cities.

"I'm not saying that the only form of urban blight is drug dealing, but 
it's a particularly pernicious form," he said, adding that prohibiting 
drugs "creates a violent underground economy."

Fulbrook, who admitted experimenting with drugs in his youth, said the 
government should regulate the sale of drugs, rather than continue to wage 
an "ill-conceived" battle.

A 46-year city resident, Fulbrook said he is considering running in the 
City Council election in May. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1997.

Camden County Prosecutor Lee Solomon said Fulbrook is right in that 
open-air drug markets have driven residents away, but he disagrees with his 
contention that drugs should be legalized.

"The idea that government would ever sanction something that is as 
devastating and destructive to people, family and society as drugs like 
crack and heroin and powdered cocaine is abhorrent and would be one more 
nail in the coffin of our social fabric," Solomon said.

He said law enforcement officials have successfully closed several open-air 
drug markets by increasing the number of police officers on patrol in 
high-crime areas and at high-crime times.

Solving the problem will "have to be done location by location, based on 
activity and community support," Solomon said.

"If we hang together and follow that approach, we can begin to make some of 
these locations places where people will want to live again in the future."
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