Mobile Police Chief James Barber spoke to residents in the Campground neighborhood saying Friday’s multiple drug raids would keep drug trafficking and its related violence out of the area. However, some seem to think the police work won’t make a long term difference.
Within a few miles, multiple law enforcement agencies led by the Mobile Police Department executed search and distribution warrants on eight properties, all of which were related to the possession and sale of illegal narcotics. Those involved included personnel from the U.S. Marshals, the Secret Service and the Mobile County Street Enforcement Narcotics Team.
At the time, no arrests had been officially made, but members of the media, who were invited to one scene, observed eight to 10 individuals being detained by authorities at 1076 State St. Barber said police on the scene recovered crack cocaine, marijuana and an undisclosed amount of cash on the premises.
“We had 650 documented drug transitions at this location since December. We’ve also made at least 40 undercover purchases from dealers at the residence,” Barber said. “We’re working throughout this entire neighborhood and before we tipped our hand, we wanted to develop as much evidence on those seven other locations in the area as well.”
Barber said officer have responded to incidents at the home in the past and the city would be seizing the property to “put a stop to the drug activity” for good. He also said the homeowner would be taken to court over the property’s seizure.
According to tax records, the home at 1076 State St. is owned by Marie M. Gardner and has delinquent taxes dating back to 2010. The city of Mobile currently has the property up for tax sale, and tomorrow, Feb. 28, will mark another year of unpaid taxes on the residence. It is not known whether the timing of the raid is related to the delinquent tax anniversary.
The neighboring property at 1078 State St., on the corner of Kennedy Street, appeared to be a burned pile of a remaining house with an intact shed in the backyard. That property, belonging to James and Marie Washam according city records, has also been delinquent on taxes since 2012. Later on Friday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office declared the property a nuisance and authorized its immediate demolition and clearance.
Neighbors mulling about near the scene said they’d seen several cars coming and going from the home. One resident said she knew there was some kind of drug activity taking place, but said didn’t want to be identified because she “has to live in this neighborhood.”
“I’m glad [the police are] over there,” she told Lagniappe. “There are children in this neighborhood, and they walk to school. We pay a lot of money to live here, and it’s not fair.”Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Barber visited the Campground neighborhood in late 2014, the first stop the pair made in an ongoing attempt to get Mobile residents involved and working with the city to make their communities safer.
“We finally have a police chief that’s willing to step up and do something and to approach it in a different manner,” Stimpson said of Barber. “We walked this neighborhood before Christmas. We knocked on these doors and these people were begging us to come back. Many were doubtful that we would, but I’m with the chief, and we’re here to stay. We can’t allow it to continue on like it is.”
Still, some from the area are skeptical whether the police’s recent actions can stop drug operations that Barber himself admits have been going on for “decades.” One resident, who also was unwilling to be identified, said, “you come back tonight, and you’ll see the same thing.”
He and his fellow neighbors went on to tell reporters that as recently as Saturday, several gunshots were fired outside the home with no response from police. However, none of the residents said they themselves alerted authorities to the shooting, which Barber said can be a problem in neighborhoods known for illegal activity.
“When you have a location where this type of activity persists, you actually end up in a situation where the neighbors are scared to report (crimes). You have an environment in which the drug dealers own the street,” Barber said. “It’s going to stop. We’re going to create an environment where they’re the ones who are uncomfortable (in) these neighborhoods, not the people who live here.”
Barber called drug activity and related violence a “cancer” in the community and said the city would be using combination of criminal and civil legal actions to address the problem.
Such actions include seizing problem residences, which the department has done previously. Shortly after today’s raids, Stimpson announced plans to sign an emergency order of demolition and debris removal on the two lots police searched on State Street.
Nigel Roberts, Mobile’s director of community development, said fixing the problems in these troubled communities isn’t just about police action. It’s also about enhancing the neighborhoods.
“You’re going to see us working across departmental lines doing real, sustainable community development. We’re trying to help people renovate their properties, and we’re creating pilot programs to work with landlords to give them incentives to fix up their properties,” Roberts said. “We’re also working with nonprofits in the area to continue to build houses and developments. We want the community to know we’re here to help them properly revitalize their community.”
Updated to include information about a neighboring property and its demolition order.