Residents, police target drug 'hot spots' in Austin

Community looks to curb criminal activity at high-crime locations

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By ELLYN FORTINO

Austin police have 17 suspects in custody after successfully taking down a drug hot spot at the corner of Adams and Laramie.

The arrests happened in March and police are still "actively searching" for another suspect, who has a warrant out for his arrest, says Barbara West, Austin's new 15th District police commander.

At a recent community meeting taking place last week, West said the police will continue to keep a police car at the corner to deter other drug dealers from moving into the location.

Police, she added, have been vigilant with issuing parking tickets and curfew violations within the 5200 block of West Adams Avenue to help curb disruptive behavior. And every Wednesday night in April, various faith leaders, along with Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), have held pray vigils on the corner.

"We need to make sure we continue to have a presence there," West said, speaking to a group of community stakeholders including faith-based organizations, residents, community groups and North Lawndale Ald. Michael Chandler (24th).

The 5200 block of West Adams scheduled its first official block club meeting last Saturday. Residents planned to discuss how they can assist in keeping the area nuisance-free once police move on to a different area.

"That will help maintain the block once you have a block club scheduled," West said.

Chandler, who's 24th Ward includes a portion of Austin, also encouraged stakeholders to have a presence on their blocks and the rest of the community.

"We need to show we own the community," he said.

Representatives from the 15th District Police and the 29th Ward, along with the city's Streets and Sanitation, Transportation and Water Management departments, will hold "Operation Clean" at Adams and Laramie avenues May 4. Residents are encouraged to come out at 9:30 a.m. on Friday.

Operation Clean delivers coordinated city services to high-crime areas. Those services include cleaning up abandoned buildings and cars, graffiti and broken street lights, among other fixes, to prevent conditions that can breed crime.

Despite progress within the 5200 block of West Adams Avenue, other community members at the meeting said more needs to happen at the corner of Mayfield Avenue and Madison Street.

Ron Reid, a member of Central Austin Neighborhood Association and a resident, said he's seen multiple young men selling drugs at the corner. According to Reid, there have been multiple shootings over the past months at Madison Street and Mason Avenue - bullet holes are still visible in cars and homes in the area, he said.

The stakeholders talked about the constructive activities and programs available in the community for the youth as well as adults.

BUILD, a gang intervention organization that's served Chicago for more than 40 years, is building its central headquarters in Austin across from Michele Clark High School. Currently, its headquarters reside at 1223 N. Milwaukee.

The new facility in Austin is tentatively scheduled to open in mid-June, said Roslind Blasingame-Bauford, the program's executive director. BUILD, however, has a small presence in Austin right now. Programs are available to students at Frederick Douglass High School, but that will soon scale up once BUILD moves here permanently.

Blasingame-Bauford said the program is looking forward to serving Austin and helping those kids who are "slipping through the cracks."

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