I live on a quiet block in Sandstone. The homes were built in the 1930s and 40s, with tree-filled lots, gardens and a few annoying deer. My neighbors are good people and kids have room to play. An alley separates our backyards, with its gravel roadway rarely disturbed by vehicles.
It was idyllic until one of our neighbors moved out of the nondescript house across the alley. The owner put the house up for rent. The new tenant was a methamphetamine dealer who quickly set up shop. The dealer just as quickly destroyed our neighborhood.
Vehicles now used the alley every few minutes, 24 hours a day. We watched as beat-up cars skidded to a stop in the middle of the road, and people leaped out and entered the home. The dealer’s customers did little to hide their drug buying excursions. I was concerned that many of the drivers were under the influence and were a danger to people walking in the alley, especially to children who frequently crossed it to go to neighboring properties.
I recognized many of the people going into the home; most of them were convicted felons involved in drugs and burglaries. Some of them stayed overnight in the home. On those same nights, property from neighboring homes was stolen or damaged.
One day a female, angry and agitated from a recent drug fix, left the drug house and walked onto a neighbor’s property while the neighbor was working in her garden. She got within inches of the neighbor, flailing her arms and screaming indecipherable words. The neighbor was afraid to leave her home for months after that.
Drug seekers without transportation walked down the alley to house. They left trash in the alley and stood in groups on the edge of our lawns. One day I encountered a male high on methamphetamine stumbling across my property while my kids were only a few feet away. On another day, I found drug paraphernalia on my lawn in an area where my children play.
The dealer had a couple of young kids in the home. The dealer often yelled and cursed at these little children. The shouts and profanity were heard from blocks away. When these kids were in their small backyard, their play was interrupted every few minutes by drug seekers or felons walking in and out of the house.
The neighborhood fell under a cloud of fear and uncertainty. Neighbors peered through closed blinds and curtains before going outside, and frequently woke up in the middle of the night, hearing vehicles traveling down the alley, some stopping in front of their homes. We worried about the security of our property when we were away.
The neighborhood reported these activities to the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement conducted surveillance and an investigation. One morning I was outside with my dog when a military grade SWAT vehicle rumbled down the alley. I cheered when the SWAT vehicle busted down the door of the drug house. Officers raided the home and found methamphetamine.
Besides pursuing criminal charges, I decided that we also needed to reclaim our neighborhood. Under Minnesota law, a county attorney may provide notice to landlords that controlled substances were seized in their rental property during a law enforcement search. When landlords receive this notice, they have 15 days to either evict the tenants or assign the eviction rights to the county attorney’s office. If the rights are assigned, the county attorney will file and pursue the eviction. The law has numerous advantages: landlords do not have to hire an attorney; landlords get help in removing an undesirable tenant; and a drug dealer is removed from the neighborhood.
In this instance, the landlord assigned the eviction rights to my office. We evicted the dealer from the property. The peace, safety and security of our neighborhood quickly returned. We have used this eviction process against other drug dealers in the county and the results are the same – neighborhoods immediately improve once the drug dealer is kicked out.
I understand not everyone agrees with this approach. Some may argue that evicting individuals addicted to drugs removes stable housing, especially for recovery. However, I believe that public safety and the security of our neighborhoods are more important than the needs of someone who has decided to profit from actively engaging in the drug trade. Others may argue that this approach moves the problem to another community. That may be true, but my responsibility is the safety of Pine County and I want to use all means available to eliminate drug dealing from our county. Finally, some claim that drug dealing is a “non-violent” crime, shrugging off any suggestion that dealers cause harm to law-abiding citizens. If you feel that way, I encourage you to ask a homeowner next to a drug house whose children have stepped on drug needles in their lawn or had their property burglarized if drug dealing is “non-violent.” Unfortunately, my neighbors, my family and I now know from personal experience the plague that drug dealers visit upon neighborhoods.
Home is where we should feel secure. We should also feel safe in our neighborhoods. Drug dealers who violate our security and safety will need to pack up and move.