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Getting Rid of Drug Dealers – Part II

Since the Getting Rid of Drug Dealers article got a lot of attention I thought that I would follow it up with some info on our chronic nuisance program.

The main purpose of a police department is to enforce the laws and protect the citizens of the community which it serves. Often times, the police are called upon to ‘solve problems’ that affect the community as a whole or just a specific neighborhood. Many times these problems are not criminal in nature and may be viewed by some as minor when compared to other crimes; however these problems affect the quality of life for all of us.

Here in the Fox Cities and the Village of Fox Crossing, our quality of life has been an important part and reason that many of us choose to live and raise families in this area. Studies have shown that when these quality of life problems go unaddressed, they tend to lead to much bigger problems such as drug dealing, thefts, burglaries, and crimes of violence.

Over the years we have been working to encourage neighbors to take on more of their responsibility for preventing crime on their property and in their neighborhoods. We have also made efforts to improve the way we, the police, address problems with nuisance activity in residential neighborhoods. What property owners, landlords, managers and so on can do is learn how to keep illegal activity off your property and make a commitment to removing or stopping it the moment it occurs.

In 2008 we were facing a spike in calls for service, many being repeat calls to the same property for nuisance type of activity.  We began researching this problem which led to the creation of a chronic nuisance program and ordinance aimed at not only reducing these calls, but increasing our communication with landlords and property owners and working collaboratively to resolve many of these concerns.

The program is not all about enforcement and fines; the focus is on education and increased communication. We often look only to the police for solutions and forget that neighbors, landlords and property owners have tremendous power over the basic health of a community. The most effective way to deal with nuisance activity is through a coordinated effort with police, landlords, property owners and neighbors. Although, for those property owners that do not wish to work together and if problems continue on their property, there can be enforcement action taken.

The ordinance allows for three nuisance calls resulting in an arrest or citation on a property within a year. The police department will notify property owners and landlords of these calls and begin working ahead of time to curb future calls. If a property were to receive three such calls, we will meet with the property owner to explain the concern and the need for assistance in combating the problem(s). If the property owner fails to or refuses to provide any assistance, the village can issue a citation for maintaining a public nuisance and bill the property owner for any future nuisance calls to that property.

Since 2008, we have witnessed a tremendous drop in repeat nuisance activity. The program, dubbed “Operation Sweep” was awarded as a finalist for the Wisconsin Association of Community Oriented Police Sir Robert Peel Award. We have also worked with other communities throughout Wisconsin as they look to create a similar program. In addition to working with other law enforcement agencies, we have partnered with the police departments in Neenah and Menasha and along with Rental Finders to host landlord training classes.

The Fox Crossing Police Department is committed to developing cooperative relationships with landlords and property owners. The following information is provided by the Fox Crossing Police Department to assist landlords and property owners in screening prospective tenants and keeping illegal activity out of their rental units.

If you are looking for info on the program, contact me and I can send you more info.

Getting rid of drug dealers

In the past month we have worked with two different property owners in getting rid of drug dealers from their property. These residents were dealing heroin and methamphetamine from their property and in other locations throughout the Fox Valley.

Drugs are an irritant and a challenging problem in our community. Through active community involvement this problem can be addressed. But, citizens must be willing to act and take responsibility for protecting their neighborhoods.

The key is education and knowing what to look for, being a good witness, and protecting yourself. Education slows frustration by understanding what law enforcement may and may not do as actions cannot be taken on suspicion alone. If so, drug houses would immediately be shut down – at the sacrifice of personal freedoms. The same Constitution protecting law-abiding citizens also protects suspected criminals -all citizens are free from unlawful searches and seizures of their person, vehicles, and homes.

Law enforcement gencies across Wisconsin are progressive and aggressively seeks to rid neighborhoods of crime. Sound legal cases are built to stand in court through the collection of tangible, credible evidence. When this process fails, criminals go free and return to your neighborhoods and scoff at the system they beat.

Patience and vigilance is needed.

So how can we do that? Well, Wisconsin has a statute – 823.113 to be specific – that will deem a property a public nuisance if it is used facilitate the delivery, distribution or manufacture, as defined in s. 961.01 (6), (9) and (13) respectively, of a controlled substance, as defined in s. 961.01 (4), or a controlled substance analog, as defined in s. 961.01 (4m), and any building or structure where those acts take place.

My community adopted this particular statute into our nuisance ordinance which falls in line with the chronic nuisance program initiated here back in 2008. Under that ordinance and state statute, a municipality may hold the owner accountable for any future violations after being notified of the drug nuisance. With a rental property, Wisconsin Statute 704.117 allows a property owner or landlord to issue a 5 day no cure to the tenant. If the tenant does not vacate the property owner/landlord can proceed with an eviction in court.

Documentation is the key to building cases against drug houses. Don’t assume the police already know, or that a neighbor will call. Don’t assume one report is all that is needed, if the activity keeps on occurring, keep on reporting it. All neighbors affected by the drug activity are encouraged to report. Drug deals tend to be completed quickly and are often over before an officer can arrive, however don’t let that deter you from reporting what you saw.

So what are we looking for?

  • Date and time of activity
  • Description of activity
  • Description of vehicles involved (color, type, license plate)
  • Description of people

Your reports are very important whether you wish to get involved in the process of getting rid of a drug house or not. The more intelligence that we have on this activity, the better prepared we are in decision making and tactics to address the problem.

More Treats, Fewer Tricks this Halloween

Halloween is around the corner—a time when small ghosts and goblins will invade our neighborhoods in search of candy, treats and fun.  This is a holiday that by nature prompts our kids to ask for more independence, as they’d rather head out with their friends to trick-or-treat than with their parents.  They may even ask to travel outside of the neighborhood—and outside of their parents’ comfort zones—to fill up their bags with as much candy as possible.

Halloween is a particularly exciting day for elementary- and middle school-aged kids, and can be useful as a “teachable moment” for parents.  If our kids have earned our trust through good behavior and responsible actions, we may choose to allow them extra freedom on this holiday.  What has happened in the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future.  “Trust” is the key word; I think we need to be able to trust that our children will make the right choices and decisions if we are to allow them the flexibility they request.

As I write this blog post, my two high school-aged sons are on their way to their first concert in Green Bay for the NFL Kickoff.  With about 100,000 people expected to converge on Lambeau field for this event, am I nervous? Of course I am.  But my wife and I have that trust factor with our boys and we are confident they will make good decisions.

With all the mischief that typically occurs on Halloween, it’s easy to forget that it is also a fun holiday celebrated with costumes, candy and parties.  Here in the town of Menasha, WI, we as law enforcement officials work hard to make this evening not only safe, but enjoyable for everyone.  We deliver safety messages throughout elementary schools through our “Officer Friendly” program.  This effort provides kids with messages of stranger safety and candy safety.  Many of these messages are delivered with the assistance of the “Yell & Tell” program, which was delivered by Jean Davidson— that’s Davidson as in Harley-Davidson.  Our patrol officers and firefighters also increase patrols in our neighborhood and have safe candy available for young trick-or-treaters.

Remember, Halloween can be used as an important “teachable moment.”  We can use it to remind our kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Party House Patrol

Many of us recall from our youth that one house where you could hang out and basically do whatever you want or that friend whose parents were always away on the weekend, or maybe were there to “supervise” the party. Well, those homes still exist and the partying and supply of drugs and/or alcohol have become more prevalent. I am fortunate to work in the community where I grew up for the past twenty years and in that time I have investigated my share of “party houses” and have seen what goes on, and the unfortunate trouble that they cause.

We all know that alcohol and drugs lower our inhibitions and affect our judgment which often times leads to unwise and unfortunate decisions. Aside from the underage alcohol citations, our officers have encountered car accidents – some serious – as a result of those leaving these party houses. We have also investigated sexual assaults and thefts, including one where the homeowner had over $10,000 in jewelry and electronics stolen!

For the most part, the parents of these kids were unaware that a party was occurring and were quite cooperative with the police, and I believe that in some cases the consequences delivered by the parents were much more severe than that of the police! However, we do occasionally encounter the parent that enables their child and will go to great lengths to “protect” the people at the party as they view underage drinking as a rite of passage. To combat that philosophy, my community passed an ordinance aimed at these social hosts. Basically, the ordinance holds those individuals responsible for underage drinking events held on their property. This ordinance was modeled after a policy in Ventura, CA. (available here to view).

“Nearly three in ten (28.6%) of those 25 and younger that binge drink report last doing so in their homes, and 45.2% report last binge drinking at someone else’s home. These data point to “house parties” as settings for binge drinking amoung young adults” (Source: Model Social Host Liability Ordinance Ventura, Ca., November 2005)

Being a parent, like the rest of you, it is reassuring to know where my kids are and who they are with and to have that house where they like to – as my 16 year old states – chill! My wife and I have built a nice basement with an area for television/movie watching, along with an area that has a pinball machine and arcade video game. Needless to say, the basement has that chill factor! These homes can be great places to hang out, but do not have to become the “party house”.

Now, ideally, our goal is to avoid or prevent the problem from ever occurring. The main way to achieve that is to have mutual respect and trust with your teen. We all like to believe that our hard work in prevention will pay off and our kids will not travel down that road, however there are times when peer pressure will be great. That is why we also need to know our kids’ friends and, equally as important, their parents. We also need to limit the accessibility and availability of alcohol to our children. Having excessive amounts of alcohol in the home not only feeds the curiosity but also makes it difficult to keep track of. Lastly, we also need to have a firm stance on the consequences should there be a party in our home.

Get to know your teen and their friends, have that trust factor and hopefully you won’t have those police cars in front of your home at 2 am!

Tailgating Safely Could Save Lives

Sports and tailgating seem to go hand-in-hand, regardless of whether the game is a professional sports or collegiate event.  There are even diehard fans that will choose to tailgate at high school games.  Tailgate parties are a great way to get fired up before the game and socialize with friends.  Many tailgate celebrations are quite elaborate, boasting food, activities and of course—alcohol.

Unfortunately, there are those that will take the alcohol consumption element to excessive levels, which is of concern not only to law enforcement, but to everyone in the stands and on the road.  Intoxicated drivers intermingled with thousands of fans leaving the stadium, both on foot and in vehicles, is a recipe for disaster! Law enforcement officials from across the country can typically speak of countless driving accidents—some minor and some serious—that have occurred after sporting events, not to mention disturbances and other offenses that were clearly related to excessive consumption of alcohol at a game.

In recent years, there has been a push from beer and liquor distributors encouraging their consumers to drink responsibly. Millions of dollars have been spent on advertising campaigns, materials for restaurant servers and even safe ride programs encouraging those who are drinking to do so safely and conscientiously.  Many sports venues now offer free soda and water for designated drivers and have also eliminated the sale of alcohol during the last hour(s) of the game.  One community here in Wisconsin recently banned the sale of alcoholic beverages at any sporting event where the participants are under 18 years of age.

“Responsible drinking” is the key phrase here.  This is something that needs to be practiced not only at sporting events but all the time.  Our kids look to their parents and relatives as role models and take note of our behaviors all the time.  Sometimes I think we get caught up in the moment and forget that kids are learning from us even when we aren’t aware of it.

So as we enjoy fall weather and football games, remember to have a good time and be responsible.

Oh, and GO PACKERS and BADGERS!

Letting your children drink at home – good idea or bad idea?

Many parents rationalize underage drinking and allow their children, and often other children, to consume alcohol in their home. In my previous blog about “party homes,” I mentioned some of the reasons parents do this – and there are plenty: “at least I know where my child is;” “at least they are not in a bar;” “I can watch them so they don’t get out of control;” “I know they are home and not driving”… the list goes on. While many of these parents may be well-intentioned and their reasons may hold some validity, they are still condoning underage alcohol consumption and THAT is sending the wrong message.

Across the United States, from Fort Lauderdale to Fox Crossing, the law states that you must be 21 years of age to consume alcohol. In some states, such as Wisconsin, there is an exception that allows a minor to consume alcohol if accompanied by their parent or legal guardian. Simply because the law permits a child to consume alcohol under certain circumstances, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The age of consumption has been debated for years – 18 or 21? Those on both sides of the debate do agree on one point: only mature adults should be permitted to consume alcohol. Is an 18 year old mature enough to drink responsibly? While the debate goes on, the risks are clear. A number of studies draw a connection between drinking early in life and the risk of developing serious alcohol problems, including alcoholism, later in life. Drinking at a young age can also lead to a variety of other adverse consequences, including risky sexual activity and poor performance in school.

There are also many legal risks for allowing underage consumption in the home. The Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Prevention Resources has created a sobering fact sheet highlighting the hefty penalties for those caught drinking underage.

Parents who condone underage drinking in the home need to realize that this invariably leads to consumption out of the home where all their good intentions not only fly out the window. To reduce the likelihood of your child drinking underage – in and outside of your home – set clear rules against drinking, consistently enforce those rules and monitor your child’s behavior.

When you hear the words ‘drug abuse’ – what comes to mind?

Since 2009  I’ve since been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel throughout Wisconsin giving presentations on prescription drug abuse, and for each of these I start with the question, “When you hear the words ‘drug abuse,’ what drugs come to mind?”

Answers I always get include: marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other street drugs, but people never think of listing prescription drugs. Unfortunately, we can now also add a suite of new designer drugs to the list – synthetic drugs like K2/Spice and “bath salts.”

I can hear the sighs from here; another emerging drug threat? Yet another trend to keep up with, and even more substances to worry about when it comes to our teens’ health and safety?

Many communities around the country are experiencing problems with several new synthetic drugs. I won’t go into great length about what these products are and what the effects of taking them are, as The Partnership at Drugfree.org recently created an excellent parent kit on synthetics that gives details about these new substances and what you can do to prevent teens from using these drugs.

I will, however, tell you what they aren’t. While these products are typically marketed like incense, potpourri or bath salts (the kind that you actually use in a bathtub), they are not intended for this type of use. Upon closer examination, the packets clearly do not contain any of these products. Here in Northeast Wisconsin, law enforcement agencies have recently been encountering these synthetic cannabinoids in convenience stores, smoke shops and adult toy stores. The prices for these products range from about $19.95 to $39.95 for a small three-gram container. Clearly, most consumers would not purchase three grams of potpourri or spa bath salts for that amount of money. These prices are actually more in line with traditional drugs such as marijuana or cocaine. Another frightening thought: since they are marketed as incense, potpourri or bath salts, anyone – regardless of age –can purchase them. We have actually seen these products in convenience stores at the counter right next to candy bars!

In March of 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enacted an emergency measure to place several of the compounds commonly found in these synthetic drugs on the controlled substances schedule. In July of that year Wisconsin also passed a law to ban these compounds, and many communities have followed with the passage of local ordinances. One thing we have learned is that the manufacturers of these substances will place stickers on their products or provide lab reports that their product does not contain any of the banned compounds, but investigations from across the state have shown that products seized have tested positive regardless of the letters or stickers.

What does this mean for you as parents?  It means that we need to work together to keep up on the current trends in substance abuse.  It is an ever changing world for us parents. Between texting, smart phones and hundreds of channels on television, life has changed for many of us!  Substances that are abused also change with the times. K2/Spice and “bath salts” have been an eye opener for not only myself, but many of my partners in law enforcement. The Wisconsin Crime Prevention Practitioners Association worked to create a drug bulletin highlighting these new threats to our youth. Law enforcement agencies across the country are taking steps like this to help their communities stay informed.

Stay educated, and remember to keep talking to the kids in your life about the dangers of these and other substances.

Staying Positive – A New Method of Prevention

Typically when we see information about areas of prevention such as crime, substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse we tend to dwell or rely on statistics. The focus is generally on how many incidents, how many injuries, and how many deaths occurred….usually the “bad” part of the problem. We tend to overlook the “good” parts in that there are many people that don’t fall victim to crimes or abuse.

Several years ago, I attended a community-oriented policing training where the instructor focused on unique policing methods to combat problems. Some of the methods taught involved the use of billboards to deliver messages, using civil laws to combat quality of life problems, and working with others outside of law enforcement to address problems. This type of “thinking outside of the box” really hit home and my agency has used that philosophy on several ventures in the past few years.

When prevention practitioners go out to speak to our youth and parents on the dangers of substance abuse, historically it has gone like this… “27% of students in Winnebago County have used prescription drugs to get high;” “almost one out of every two high school students in the United States has used alcohol in the past 30 days.” These comments illustrate the negative side of the problem, but that’s all it is—a negative perception of our youth when in reality, most of our kids are “good” kids.

Our local drug free coalition, re”TH!NK, has recently taken the step in recognizing these “good” kids by using these statistics to highlight what is not happening. The coalition paid for the production of Prom tickets for several area high schools this spring, and on the back of each ticket there was a positive statistic such as “77% of Winneconne High School students will not get into a car with someone who has been drinking alcohol;” “61% of Winneconne High School students have not had alcohol in the past 30 days.” Another local school, Kimberly High School took those positive statistics one step further and put them on a billboard on a major thoroughfare in the community.

I heard a saying a few years back that bears repeating, “Law enforcement is one of those unique professions where success is measured by what doesn’t happen!” I firmly believe that the same holds true in the prevention field as well. We need to remember to not lose the focus on our good kids and give them the credit that they deserve!

Prescription Drug Abuse: Are You Really Informed?

When people speak of drug abuse, one immediately thinks of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. However, people rarely think of the common drugs found in their homes and medicine cabinets. These pharmaceuticals typically are used for medicinal or “good” purposes; however we are starting to see an alarming trend of abuse of this medicine. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs. That’s more than the total number abusing cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and other drugs – and the number has increased 80% in the past 6 years. Prescription drug abuse cuts right across all sectors of the community: from young teens to the elderly, from high school students and college students to health professionals like doctors, nurses and veterinarians. It can affect the unemployed in economically depressed areas to the wealthiest of Hollywood celebrities.

We are no stranger to that trend here in Wisconsin. In a recent press conference, the Wisconsin Attorney General stated, “sixty (60) percent of our teenagers report that they have access to controlled substances in and around their homes. Two in ten (20%) have abused them to get high. None of us would drop our kids off at a ‘drug house’, yet many of us do not safeguard our own prescription drugs.”

Teenagers have started abusing these medications at “pharming” parties. This is a party where everyone brings a bottle of medication and they combine all of them in a candy dish or bowl. The more varied colors of pills the better, another term used for these parties is “skittling” because the pills resemble the candy of the same name. In 2010 the Town of Menasha Police Department arrested a 15 year old girl who had almost 200 prescription pills that she had taken from relatives and was attempting to sell at her high school.

Some people may view this as a “victimless” crime, in a sense that the only damage being done is to the abuser. Law enforcement agencies in Northeast Wisconsin can attest to the fact that this is not the case. In recent years, law enforcement has investigated many thefts and burglaries where pharmaceuticals were the primary target. In many cases, money and jewelry were bypassed. These addicts and criminals have become increasingly brazen in their crimes, and we have started to see home invasions where innocent residents have suffered serious injuries. Pharmacies have also been the target of armed robberies, something that was unheard of ten years ago. Even more disturbing is the number of people who have been hospitalized and even died due to their addiction.

Back in 2009 a coalition was formed in Northeast Wisconsin to combat this problem, and we developed an educational kit entitled “Good Drugs Gone Bad” to educate parents, families and concerned citizens about the seriousness of prescription drug abuse. The toolkit is intended to be used as part of a presentation that could be given to prevention professionals to help spread the word about pharmaceutical abuse. The toolkit was introduced at a press conference in 2009. Since that time, we have promoted and disseminated the toolkit to over 1,000 prevention professionals across Wisconsin and the United States.

In addition to the toolkit, the coalition works to address the disposal, or lack thereof, of pharmaceuticals. A drug drop box program was established in 2010 in Winnebago County (WI) and there are now drug drop boxes in all police departments in the county as well as throughout NE Wisconsin. In the past year, the drop boxes in Winnebago County have collected over 1,000 pounds of pharmaceuticals.

This will truly require a “team” effort to combat the problem. We must work together to develop and implement effective strategies to combat prescription drug abuse. On our team we have all sorts of players: parents, youth, concerned community members, school staff, business owners, pharmacists, law enforcement officers, prevention workers, health care professionals and more. All of us play a critical role in prevention and so can you.

Keeping our communities safe and secure!

In the spring of 2009, Wisconsin was witnessing a large increase in the abuse of pharmaceuticals. This was having a direct impact on law enforcement as our officers across the state were responding to pharmacy robberies, home invasions and thefts and burglaries all related to this new epidemic. In addition to this new crime wave, communities were being impacted through overdose hospitalizations and deaths. Even our outdoor enthusiasts and anglers were impacted with polluted waterways!

To address this, a coalition – led by Fox Crossing Police Officer Jason Weber – was formed and worked to develop and education and awareness campaign titled, Good Drugs Gone Bad. The program went on to be recognized both on a state and national level, and workshops have been presented to educators throughout the United States.

Since that time, the program has evolved into working on new and Emerging Drug Trends such as heroin and methamphetamine along with others that we typically do not think of such as caffeine powder, cough syrup and others.

In 2012, we all were struck by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Our coalition members, being crime prevention officers, soon were inundated with requests from schools – both public and private – asking for assistance in making their schools harder targets for these senseless acts of violence.

Several programs came out nationally addressing how to respond to these events, however what they failed to cover was the before and after parts of an active threat event.  We added seminars and workshops titled Active Threat Mitigation: Detect, Deter, Delay, Respond and Recover aimed at school leaders and school resource officers to better prepare and plan for such an event.

In 2015, members of the original coalition sat down to look at the dangerous trends that our youth are engaging with on social media.  This led to a focus on raising the awareness of social media to parents and providing tools and resources to educators to pass along to our youth with the workshop Safety with Social Media: Our Youth ARE at Risk.