Rochester, N.Y. – There’s growing frustration among city residents and businesses with open-air drug markets and loitering. But police say clearing the corners of troublemakers is easier said than done.
When police announced Operation Cool Down, a detail of several extra officers to prevent violence, resident Charlie Middlebrook hoped it did one thing: clear the corners of young men hanging out. “They're not sitting there just to be sitting there,” she said. “They're smoking or doing something there.”
By noon, Jefferson Ave. is lined with young men. Some are doing nothing wrong. Others are openly playing dice or selling drugs.
“We talk to them. We try to talk to them to move. This ruin our business,” said Zack Ahmed, owner of Zack Mini Mart. “Some people, they be scared to walk in the stores because all those people they be in the front.”
Anthony Simmons lives on Chili Ave. and sometimes hesitates before walking around with his children.
“You got drug users, drug dealers, you got vagrants hanging around. It’s kind of tough,” he said. “We need to get them off the street and doing something productive.”
Three business owners on Thurston Rd. told 13WHAM News they are fed up with open drug dealing and loiterers. One owner said the window to his shop was smashed when he complained to police. None of the owners would go on camera, saying they feared retaliation.
The concerns are by no means limited to the southwest side of the city.
“I get phone calls daily about people loitering and selling drugs throughout the city,” said Councilman Adam McFadden.
McFadden wants police to target known open-air drug markets and troublemakers. He is critical of the Cool Down strategy of stopping young men for minor infractions.
“We don’t have a strategy. There’s not even a document to discuss what we’re doing about that,” he said. “What we get is what I would call campaigns. We name stuff. Operation Cool Down. Zero Tolerance. And we really have not addressed the open air drug markets that we have in this city.”
Chief James Sheppard said he shares the frustrations, but the problem isn’t easy to solve. He said there’s no way all of the loiterers are selling drugs and people have a right to hang out if they’re not doing anything wrong. He said he understands residents are “intimidated.”
Sheppard said his officers do clear problem corners, often multiple times during a shift, by telling people to “move along.” But people come back when the officer leaves.
“What really makes it hard for us is we can come make an arrest and in five minutes when we leave, that corner is going to be full again,” he said.
As for drug arrests, those investigations take time and resources.
“We can arrest 15 people but if it’s a good drug corner, the void will be filled as soon as we leave,” Sheppard said.
There’s a sense among many residents police are not trying. One young woman who didn’t want to go on camera said she thinks the police don’t care and drive right by drug sales.
Ahmed said he would tell police, “Just stop by more often.”
“I can put a policeman on every corner,” Sheppard said. “But at some point in time, that officer has to go somewhere else.”