South District police use evictions to deal with criminalsWith each eviction in his sprawling South District, Buffalo Police Chief Patrick M. Pascall sends home the same message:
“Change your behavior or change your address.”
Since 2011 more than 150 problem tenants have been evicted from their residences in the district after repeatedly disrupting their neighborhoods with drug sales, illegal weapons, loud music, frequent parties and excessive fights.
Streets including Duerstein, Geary, Hopkins and Seneca show multiple evictions, as do Woodside, Parkview and South Park avenues. Mineral Springs and Willet roads each have three evictions; Potters Road has two. Indian Church Road and Red Jacket Parkway each have one.
“Evictions are one of the best community police tools available for quality-of-life issues,” said City Court Judge Patrick Carney, who took over housing court duties in January 2011. “You want to wear criminals down. You want to make it as difficult as possible for drug dealers to conduct their business. You make them move enough times, maybe they will stop.”
Or maybe they will flee the city.
Christopher “Brooklyn” Marks lived on Duerstein Street before he was evicted the first time in December 2011. He was then tossed from residences on Abbott Road, South Park, Como Avenue and Geary Street over the next 14 months. Along the way, Marks was arrested 17 times on narcotics-related and harassment charges, according to Pascall.
“He’s the perfect example of a nuisance,” said the South District chief.
Today Marks lives in Lackawanna.
The eviction of criminals is a critical part of the community policing initiatives that Pascall brought to the South District when he became chief in 2010. The South District – bounded on the west by Lake Erie, on the east by Lackawanna and West Seneca, on the north by William Street – extends as far south as the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
Pascall initially focused on problem addresses, those that showed repeat complaints for quality-of-life issues that can ruin neighborhood integrity. By enforcing a century-old state statute originally enacted to shut down brothels – the Bawdy House Law – he pressured landlords to evict those tenants involved in illegal activities.
If the landlords failed to take action, the statute provides for a $5,000 fine.
“We used it as leverage,” Pascall said. “We called in the landlords and presented our case. I realized we had to go after the criminals where they lived because one bad tenant can ruin the whole street.”
Pascall’s initiatives appeared to be working, reported the Erie Crime Analysis Center, after it compared South District crime statistics from April 2009 to March 2010 with those from April 2012 to March 2013:
• Vehicle thefts dropped 42.6 percent – from 211 to 121
• Robberies fell by 13 percent – from 115 to 100
• Burglaries decreased 9.4 percent – from 512 to 464
• Assaults dropped 6 percent– from 182 to 171
The incidence of rapes in the South District, meanwhile, increased from 16 to 18. There were no homicides in the district from April 2012 to March 2013. In 2009-10 there were four.
“The biggest impact has been on Seneca Street,” Pascall said. “It was really bad when I first started, with larcenies, burglaries, problem properties. There were pockets of problems. Now there are not as many people hanging on corners.”
A narcotics raid on Hammerschmidt Avenue in April resulted in the arrest of a 40-year-old man, said police.
“The suspect was selling hallucinogenic mushrooms,” said Officer Anthony LeBron, who works the South District community police beat with Officer David Fay. “He had a grow farm in his apartment. He was putting the mushrooms in candy molds and covering them with chocolate; that’s how he was selling them.”
LeBron identified the suspect as Robert L. Wilson. Wilson, police said, was also charged with criminal possession of a loaded AK-47. Wilson’s apartment on Hammerschmidt was blocks away from School 93, Southside Elementary.
According to LeBron, when a police raid nets narcotics or weapons, the tenant could face eviction within 72 hours. Notice to evict usually requires 30 calendar days.
Wilson was sent packing within days of his arrest, LeBron reported.
“I’m not picking on the landlords because there are a lot of good ones, but you end up with these absentee landlords who aren’t even in the state of New York maintaining tenants who are creating havoc or holding the neighborhood hostage,” LeBron said. “I can’t, in good conscience, allow someone to make money off of that at the expense of everyone else on that block. That’s not how it should be.”
Ronald B. Reczek is the third generation in his family to live in the house his grandfather bought in Kaisertown nearly a century ago. Reczek, who retired from General Motors after working 42 years, was raised on Weiss Street and returned there to live in 2008 after the death of his father.
Weiss – running from Dingens Street, crossing Clinton and Casimir Street – was not the street he remembered as a child.
“The street was a nightmare. Two doors down, we had a derelict house – one of the worst houses in Kaisertown in my estimation. Beer bottles and crack bags littered the lawn. People were coming and going at all hours,” said Reczek. “When the block goes bad, residents are in a bind. They either sell or clean up.”
Reczek did better. He Googled “block club” and then called his councilman.
“I’ve never done anything like this in my life, but I did whatever I thought I could do,” said Reczek, who is 69. “It’s been a real headache, almost tortuous. This isn’t the easiest world to live in, and block clubs can be very tricky. The thing with this neighborhood is, it’s hard to get people together because of their multinational nature.”
Two evictions and 50 police reports later, Weiss Street is back on track.
The block club Reczek formed in August 2011 exists today with a dozen core members each paying $1 a month for dues.
“We’re not cops. We’re not soldiers. But the drug houses are gone, and no one bad has moved in,” Reczek said.
Linda Freidenberg, president of the Board of Block Clubs of Buffalo and Erie County, has helped scores of city block clubs get off the ground, including many in South Buffalo.
“South Buffalo is like a different world than the rest of the city,” Freidenberg said. “We don’t let them mess with the block clubs in South Buffalo. The older people are still holding it together, but we need some young blood in our block clubs. We must get the younger people to care about the neighborhood like we do.”
John T. Poniewierski, 64, presides over the Kaisertown Coalition, a block club organized in 1999 that meets in the Peter Machnica Center on Clinton.
Poniewierski, retired from Bethlehem Steel Co., recalled working at Sattler’s department store on Broadway.
“I saw that neighborhood go down, and I don’t want it to happen here,” he said. “It’s easier to keep a neighborhood than try to take it back.”
“I know exactly what’s going on in the district,” said Pascall. “I log it, and categorize it by address or crime type. It lets people know what is going on in their area with the exceptions of domestic violence and rapes.”
Pascal also tracks evictions, marking each with a red dot on a computer map of his district. He said that most of the time landlords don’t even know about the Bawdy House Law.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time it works. We tell them to evict the problem tenant or face a $5,000 fine in Housing Court,” said Pascall.