Martinsburg drug house ordinance is cleaning up neighborhoods

Walk around any troubled neighborhood in any West Virginia community and talk with folks who live there. They know where the drug dealers live.

For that matter, the police often know too, or at least they suspect certain locations because of the number of complaints they receive.

Three years ago, the city of Martinsburg, fed up with its inability to tamp down drug dealing, passed the Drug House Ordinance. The code change empowered the city police department to shut down drug houses, and it’s working.

The city has shut down 59 drug houses, confiscated drugs and guns, evicted tenants, arrested 89 suspected drug dealers and required that replacement tenants undergo thorough criminal background checks to prevent new drug dealers from replacing the old ones.

Martinsburg Police Chief Maury Richards says closing the drug houses has led to a drop in crime on those city blocks compared with the year prior to the shutdown.

“Violent crime has dropped by 51 percent, property crime by 35 percent, drug calls of all kinds by 52 percent, public nuisance by 34 percent and overdose calls by 54,” Richards said on Talkline last week.

“Not only is it making a difference for those who live in that house, but it’s also making a tremendous public safety difference for that entire block, cleaning it up, giving the decent citizens a better quality of life,” the chief said.

Richards told me most of city’s landlords are cooperating with the police.  In some cases, the landlords are calling the police themselves and asking for them to step in and chase out the drug-dealing tenants.

However, a few landlords are outliers, and that’s an ongoing problem. The city has released the names of ten landlords that are repeat drug house ordinance violators.

Richards says nine other West Virginia communities have adopted similar ordinances because of the success in Martinsburg.

The battle against the drug crisis has multiple levels.  Prevention and treatment are critically important, but so is enforcement.  The law enforcement community is always trying to figure out new ways to shut down drug trafficking and respond effectively to citizen complaints.

Martinsburg’s Drug House Ordinance is a good example of a practical strategy that has proven to be effective in cleaning up neighborhoods.




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