Northside neighbors unload on Niles Council

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, April 13, 2004

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles' City Council had its largest audience in recent memory Monday night, and most in it want the city council to know about the rampant drug trafficking in their northside neighborhood.
Mamie Davis, who lives in the 400 block of North Seventh Street, said she won't leave her home to work in her yard unless she locks her doors and takes her keys with her.
She said she's been accused by some near her home who are up to no good of being a window peeper. "However, I have windows in my house so I can look out them," she said.
Davis said she has on numerous occasions witnessed drug dealers showing young children in the neighborhood "little white bags of stuff."
Davis's lead was followed by numerous others complaining about similar issues.
The city council held its meeting Monday night in the basement of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church, an event organized by Mount Calvary member Beverly Woodson.
While Woodson now lives in Niles Township, she said, "I'm a product of this neighborhood and I still go to church here."
She said she is keenly aware of the difficulties of residents in the area, particularly senior citizens and young families and children.
Most who spoke seemed to indicate that the drug trafficking problem in the area had subsided somewhat when the city operated a community reclamation office in the area and employed officer Bill Emral as community reclamation officer.
The city lost use of that facility, and no longer has an officer dedicated as a community reclamation officer. Niles City Police Chief Ric Huff said his department has one officer who serves as the community reclamation officer and the school liaison officer. He said when school is not in session, the officer will be more available for the area and will have use of an office located in the upstairs of the Amtrak Depot on Fifth Street.
Davis said one problem in the area is that owners of property have turned their buildings into rental property and operate as slum landlords.
Other residents of the area complained about the money and effort spent to rehabilitate a number of city parks but that Troost Park, located in the northside area, has been neglected.
Ruth Williams of the 800 block of Ferry Street said, "I think they've painted the equipment in that park one time in the 37 years I've been here."
She said a new swing set was installed a few years ago, but "nothing else has been done to that park."
Williams also said has called the city several times about a vacant home located next door to her. She said she has seen people sneaking into and out of that home. She said she thinks the garage building of the home is filled with garbage and is attracting mice.
Terry Hernandez said she bought a home near Seventh and Ferry streets two years ago and has been plagued by drug dealers since.
She said the drug dealing in the neighborhood is of the equal opportunity variety.
One resident told council members that her grandson, who lives in the area with her, is ashamed and afraid of the area.
Some city council members seemed to indicate they were unaware of the drug dealing problems in the area. Others, like former Michigan State Police Trooper Robert Chute, told the residents they should form a neighborhood watch program and not be intimidated by the drug dealers.
Councilmember Robert Durm told residents at the meeting to write down license numbers of cars they see in the neighborhood they don't think belong there are give those numbers to police.
Chute said the problem "is not going to be fixed overnight. I suggest you start a neighborhood watch program. Know your neighbors. Know who belongs here and who doesn't. Call the police and ask them to come down."
One resident said when she has called the police, the officers responding have told her neighbors she placed the call, which made her a target for a potential "payback."
Niles Mayor Michael McCauslin told the residents he made a list of their concerns and that he would like to compile that list and meet back with the Rev. Bryant Bacon, Mount Calvary pastor, and respond to the residents concerns.