With Williamsport now considered by federal law enforcement officers a source city for heroin, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty visited Friday offering ways he has tried to combat drug problems in the Electric City.
Doherty was invited by Mayor Gabriel J. Campana to the city's Crime Summit III, the third such gathering of administration, City Council, law enforcement and community members.
"We drain the swamp," Doherty said referring to a philosophy of shutting down the rental properties where illegal activities proliferate and emptying whatever neighborhoods they can of drug dealers living and operating there.
Doherty spoke just eight hours after City Council approved a first reading of a rental ordinance requiring landlords to register with the city, and - should that not happen, or they knowingly allow criminal activity - face potential closure of their properties.
"Our ordinance is different," Doherty said. "We charge $50 per property and $15 per unit," he said.
The safety inspection is done every year, as
opposed to every four years in Williamsport.
"If you don't register a rental property you are fined $200 a day or are shut down," Doherty said. "We have two employees whose job is to tear down houses."
Since the ordinance has been enacted, the Lackawanna County city that is three times larger than Williamsport has collected about $150,000 and realized about a 20 percent decrease in overall crime and an 8 to 9 percent decrease in violent crime.
Nearly 85 percent of all of the crimes in Scranton, as they are in this city and others, is drug-related offenses, such as murder, robbery and theft.
In Scranton, not only are police on watch in "bad neighborhoods," their building inspectors are on call 24 hours a day.
"Criminals usually live in bad housing," Doherty said. "We condemn the buildings and throw them out."
"Landlords learn real quick," he said.
Doherty estimated his city has torn down about 400 properties using this method.
When landlords, such as those who allow crimes to proliferate, lose money they get the message, Doherty said. "They become more mindful of who they rent to."
When the crime rates are lowered, the property values increase and the quality of life improves, he said.
"Is it going to completely solve the problem - no - we have a heroin problem," he said.
Doherty said the police saturation coverage, especially toward the weekends, is done in various neighborhoods, not any one specific place to throw off criminals. Because many of the drug dealers and users are transitory, police may more heavily cover three neighborhoods as opposed to one.
But when a rental property is subject to three of these specific kind of police-related calls in a six-month period, and the property is shuttered, it turns the tide, according to Doherty.
Additionally, Scranton places advertisements in newspapers of landlords or owners of rentals who don't pay what they are supposed to and are put on notice publicly.
"The No. 1 asset for people in central and northeastern Pennsylvania is their home," Doherty said.
With the average two-income earners making $40,000 annually, the value of their home is their worth, he said.