Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jul 2003 Source: Abilene Reporter-News (TX) Copyright: 2003 Abilene Reporter-News Contact: http://www.reporternews.com Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1106 Author: Jason Sheehan CARVER CRACKDOWN: NEIGHBORS, ABILENE POLICE 'WEED OUT' DRUGS Abilene police Officer Adam Lopez slowly rolled down Mesquite Street and spotted two young men lounging in plastic lawn chairs on the curb. A darkened, boarded-up house loomed in the background behind them. "They're out early tonight," Lopez said, a little surprised to see suspected drug dealers already on the streets. "They're waiting for traffic, trying to make some money." Lopez crept by, making sure the men were aware of his presence. "We'll be back," Lopez said. "They're not going anywhere." Lopez, 33, patrols District 2 in the northside of Abilene, the area of the city that historically has been notorious for loitering, burglary, prostitution and drugs. Now, however, it is not unusual for Lopez and other Abilene police officers to work a night in the area without making a drug bust. The pace of criminal activity in the Carver neighborhood as well as the surrounding northside areas seems to have slowed, as police and residents have worked together in an effort to win the battle against crime. "When I first moved over here, I guarantee you I could get dope," Lopez said. In 1999, officers arrested 65 people in District 2 for drug-related offenses. In 2002, they collared 19, a decrease of 71 percent. Assaults in the area have also fallen about 20 percent, from 147 in 1999 to 117 in 2002. Crack houses that once lined the streets have been abandoned, their glass windows replaced with wooden boards spray-painted with messages that read, "No Trespassing," and "No Loitering." "The neighborhood is cleaner," said Odis Dolton, a longtime Carver resident. "The neighborhood is safer. People are thinking about Carver as a place to build or buy a house. Historically, that wasn't the case." Increased police presence and neighborhood programs such as Interested Citizens of Abilene North, or I-CAN, represent stepped-up efforts to put an end to the dope sellers, stragglers and stealers. "Drug-related crime in that area is still present, but to a lesser degree than in the early 1990s," Deputy Police Chief Ed Dye said. "Law enforcement has been successful because community involvement and support for the revitalizing the neighborhood is strong." Petty Hunter, president of the local NAACP chapter, said the relationship between the police and the community has been crucial to the cleaner neighborhoods. "It (the relationship) is becoming more and more positive everyday," Hunter said. "It's been a tremendous change since I've been here, and I expect that to continue." Hunter credited Police Chief Melvin Martin with helping facilitate a working relationship between police and neighborhood residents. "In the (almost 10-year) history of I-CAN, Melvin Martin was instrumental," Hunter said. "He promised all of his resources, and they (police) have followed through." Fighting crime About 20 minutes after he discovered the two men hanging out on the curb on Mesquite Street, Lopez decided it was time to check on them. Not wanting to be seen, the officer flipped the headlights off on his police cruiser and sneaked up on the two men about two blocks away. As he approached, a late model Ford Expedition pulled up and stopped in front of the men. After he witnessed what he thought was a possible drug deal, Lopez pressed on the gas and began to follow the sport utility vehicle. The SUV sped up as the driver noticed the police car tailing him, and almost knocked over a garbage can as it swerved around a corner. When he finally pulled over the SUV for failing to signal the turn, Lopez flipped on his searchlight, thinking the two men inside might have tossed drugs out the window, and called for backup. Almost immediately, a second police unit pulled up. By this point, Lopez had the suspects, two men, out of the vehicle. While Lopez frisked the driver, K-9 Officer Kevin Pyeatt and his dog, Rocky, pulled up to the scene. Because the officers had probable cause -- Lopez saw what he thought was a drug deal and the suspect attempted to flee from police -- they searched the car. The officers and Rocky combed every inch of the vehicle, but failed to find drugs. The subsequent search of the driver and the passenger also failed to yield drugs. Lopez let them go with only a ticket for failing to signal and reckless driving. "I know they had dope," Lopez said. "He probably ate it." Another northside patrol officer, Phil Sage, said while police have taken lots of drugs off the streets, the problem will likely never disappear. "These guys get bold," Sage said. "They know we're in the area, and they'll still sell. In a high drug area, drug addicts are going to hang out. It's a fact." Officer Marc Valentine, who also patrols the northside, agreed that increased police presence has curbed some of the drug activity in certain areas of Abilene. "Around North 8th and Ash (streets), we've pretty much killed that area. There's not as much (drug) traffic," Valentine said. "We know what's going on. People are standing around, cars pull up. We contact the cars after they pull out, and we find drugs." Hunter believes simply posting signs that eliminated parking in the area was instrumental in reducing the drug trafficking and loitering in the areas around North 8th and Ash streets. "The signs and the enforcement make it difficult for drug dealers," Hunter said. Dolton, the assistant director of finance for the city, agreed that police and the city have made a tremendous effort to rid the north side area of crime. "Those guys (police) do a heck of a job day in and day out," Dolton said. "They've worked pretty openly with us in the past and will continue to do so in the future." Valentine said there are several keys to reducing the number of drug deals in the area he patrols. "We have to learn the people in the area," Valentine said. "We have to be able to discern from the people who live there from the people just hanging out there at 3 a.m." To identify the people who belong in the neighborhoods, Valentine said police solicit help from residents. "Getting the people in the neighborhood involved is key," Valentine said. "We can't do it by ourselves. It (the effort) has to involve the people." One way to get the neighborhood involved is police presence when residents participate in neighborhood cleanup programs. "When we do neighborhood cleanups, there's a patrol officer there," Hunter said. "You'll (also) often see police officers in the area doing their reports, which is a plus." Sage agreed that having knowledge of and being involved in the area he patrols is part of being a good police officer in Abilene. "You have to be proactive," Sage said. "There are good people who live in these neighborhoods. What were trying to do is weed out the bad guys."