Pubdate: Sun, 25 Dec 2016
Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (NY)
Copyright: 2016 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle


There is a place in city of Rochester where people from all walks of
life have been gathering. About half of them come from the city, the
other half drive in from the suburbs, or even farther, to get here
every day. It is a hub of diversity, unlike any other in the Finger
Lakes region. Men and women, young and old, business executives,
soccer moms, students. They drive shiny BMWs, family minivans, and
pickup trucks with antlers mounted on the hood.

They have been coming here for one of two reasons: to sell drugs, or
to use them.

Clinton Avenue is a bit like a fast food drive-through along the
Thruway. It is easy and quick to get in and out using I-490 to the
south, or Route 104 to the north. Over the years it has developed a
reputation for business that attracts dealers and addicts from all
over the Finger Lakes area. So as the nation's heroin epidemic settled
into our region, Clinton Avenue quickly became Ground Zero.

For the people who live there, it became hell.

Their valiant struggle to take back their neighborhood can serve as a
model for other communities, while also exposing the weakest links in
our region's response to this crisis.

Members of the Editorial Board toured this area with two Rochester
police officers and Ida Perez, a local resident who is determined to
take back the streets where she walks with her visiting

There are a few needles on the ground, and a lot of needle caps. But,
Perez told us, this is much better than a few months ago.

That is when Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren took a similar tour, and
decided to launch an all-out attack. The city cleared out overgrown
trees and bushes that were concealing drug activity, and built a
concrete block wall across a path favored by dealers and their
customers. It shut down a park where drugs were sold. It installed
bright street lights. It boarded up porches being used as shooting
galleries. It boarded them up again when suspected users tried to tear
the boards down.

Neighbors started keeping tabs on the cars coming and going, and more
police cars were assigned to patrol the streets. Police officers
compiled and studied data, including statistics pulled from hundreds
of field information forms -- which they use to record suspicious
activity -- related to the heroin market here over the past few years.

Seventy percent of the vehicles listed on these forms hail from
outside of the city. Rochester police are sending letters to the
owners, letting them know someone is watching.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Clinton Avenue is not open
for business. Not this business.

But, even the city knows its targeted efforts fall short. The attack
will be difficult and expensive to sustain.

The lack of immediate treatment options for users is a significant
problem, frustrating officers who are sometimes approached by addicts
seeking help.

The widespread perception that this is a "city problem" remains,
despite clear evidence that much of the problem is imported from
places as far away as Canandaigua, Geneva, Ithaca, Syracuse and even
Watertown. Leaders throughout our region should work with the city to
explore how they can have an impact here, at Ground Zero.

It is wrong to call this a "drug-infested neighborhood." It is a
neighborhood under siege, by an overwhelming epidemic. But that makes
it a good place to begin developing a cure.
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