Problem neighbor pushes residents to action

June 15, 2005

A group of agitated citizens sat down last week with new Hood River City Police Chief Bruce Ludwig to vent their frustrations.

They had arranged the evening meeting following the recent felony drug arrest of a “problem” neighbor in the Heights. In fact, police had visited the home of the young adult male 17 times in the past three years. Residents living near May Street School, told Ludwig that they were only granted peace when the man was behind bars.

“A drug deal goes bad, someone pulls out a gun while my daughter is playing in the yard — that’s my greatest fear,” said one young mother. (Residents asked that their names be withheld.)

Ludwig and Officer Mike Martin were welcomed into the home of one concerned individual and greeted by 10 other residents gathered there. The law enforcement officials then got an earful of stories about all-night parties with blaring music, public fights between family members that frequently erupted into violence, and a steady stream of strange cars coming and going from the premises at all hours.

One man angrily told Ludwig that the subject had even banged on his door right after the police had been there to announce, “We’ve got control of the street tonight.”

The concerned neighbors grilled Ludwig in their quest to know why a repeat offender was not dealt with more sternly by the criminal justice system. Ludwig assured them that officers would come every time that they called for help, but that he did not control the outcome of a trial or court pleading. The citizen group then decided to write a letter to Hood River District Attorney John Sewell asking that he prosecute the alleged dealer to the fullest extent of the law.

Ludwig and Martin listened quietly to the high level of anxiety for almost an hour. They also heard recounts of how different individuals had attempted to deal with the ongoing problems, one videotaping suspicious vehicles and another even warning drivers away from the area.

“I’m certainly hearing all the frustration and your feeling that something needs to be done. But confrontation from you will not make things better, it will make things worse,” said Ludwig. “That’s what we’re here for and you need to call us anytime there is a problem.”

He said the city council was giving citizens a new “tool” to help with these types of scenarios. The city’s amended nuisance ordinance — which goes into effect on July 13 — allows a property owner to be fined if law enforcement officials are forced to take corrective action on the premises within a 30-day period. The list of applicable violations includes disorderly conduct, loud or disturbing noises, assaults or felony drug offenses. Ludwig said it sounded like the ordinance had been tailor-made for the troubled neighborhood. He promised to forward residents a copy of the new code, along with a simple outline of all the infractions that police were allowed by law to intervene in.

“Just remember that we’re likely to be a (pain) because we’re going to be calling you — often,” one man told Martin.

“If we get more neighborhoods that act like this, it’s (the new ordinance) going to help us out a lot,” the officer replied.

Ludwig wants to make the same materials available to any other neighborhood within the city limits that is experiencing the same or similar problems. He said the purpose of Neighborhood Watch was exemplified by last week’s meeting. If citizens forge an active partnership with police, Ludwig said it is much easier to address safety and security problems.

He recommends that anyone with questions about available resources call his department at 386-3942.

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