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How citizens can help police take out a neighborhood drug house
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One of the more common public safety complaints is about what residents perceive to be a "drug house" in their neighborhood. Our experience is that more often than not, these perceptions are correct. The problem is finding a way to eliminate the drug houses, since a person's home enjoys the greatest amount of protection from searches and seizures; hence the issue of "government intrusion" into one's home. It takes a lot of reliable information to be able to obtain search or arrest warrants in these situations. But, even though these cases present a challenge to law enforcement, the violators can, in fact, be brought to justice with the right investigative practices and a concerted effort by the police and neighbors working together.

Some of the problems with neighborhood drug houses include the devaluation of properties in the area, they tend to feature undesirable characters who engage in many forms of criminal conduct such as fights, confrontations, drug or cash "rip offs," increased traffic volume and unsafe driving. Many drug house occupants are inherently paranoid, not only of law enforcement, but of criminals who want a piece of their action. They are therefore likely to be armed with loaded firearms at all times and, if using drugs themselves, their judgment in connection with the use of firearms may be significantly impaired. Finally, there is the stigma of having a drug house in the neighborhood, which is a less than desirable situation, especially for the young people growing up in the area.

Many of the indicators that suggest a particular home may be a drug house are subjective, and any one by themselves is not enough to make a strong criminal case; it usually requires a combination of several suspicious activities to give the police enough information to work with. Of course, the threshold for starting an investigation is usually met when a neighbor witnesses a drug deal.

Most people believe that an unusual amount of traffic and visitors who stay for only short periods of time suggests that a particular home is a drug house. It is additionally suspicious if the visitors are driving cars without license plates or ones that are obscured. The way a home's occupants look or dress is not a reliable indicator by itself.

Chemical odors similar to ammonia, solvents, acetone, alcohol or white gas are strong clues to the possibility of illegal drug production. The smell of marijuana plants or marijuana being smoked also provides hints about what is going on at the house. Another indicator of illegal activities is when occupants of the home install what appears to be an excessive amount of surveillance and security equipment.

In some instances, drug producers do things to bypass electricity or water meters, not so much to save money, but to avoid suspicion due to high usage rates. Some other clues include frequent late-night visitors, blocked windows, people who appear to be unemployed while possessing expensive items and vehicles, and the list goes on. As I stated earlier, neighbors are usually quite adept at knowing what is going on in their neighborhood, so we tend to assume that they are correct when they believe there is a drug-dealing or production household in their midst.

Neighbors have to be committed with intolerance towards drug houses. This means keeping the neighborhood neat and clean, so the drug buyers and sellers will tend to stand out. Make sure that litter and graffiti are promptly removed, be quick to call the police about suspicious vehicles or people, keep a list of license plate information and descriptions of vehicles frequenting the drug house, take pictures surreptitiously of the activities and vehicles, ensure that there is adequate nighttime lighting in the neighborhood, and make sure that kids stay away from the problem location.

Working with the local police department to establish Neighborhood Watch programs is a good idea, as is applying pressure to landlords to evict renters who are causing these drug-related problems. It takes time to get rid of drug houses, so we ask you to be patient. The police want to rid the community of these scourges just as much as you do.

In 2007, Ceres voters passed a special tax to fund more police and firefighters; included in that tax was funding for a four-officer Street Crimes Unit (SCU). The SCU is responsible for identifying and dealing with drug houses. The SCU also enforces street-level drug dealing, parole violations and other crimes that threaten the security and safety of this community. Problems with drug houses can be reported by leaving the information on the Ceres Police Tip Line at 538-5740. All calls are confidential. The SCU is anxious to assist in these matters, and will take your complaints seriously. Other Stanislaus County law enforcement agencies have similar special police units, so help is available elsewhere if you do not live in Ceres.