Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jul 2003
Source: Abilene Reporter-News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Abilene Reporter-News
Author: Jason Sheehan


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 

"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 

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."