Statham looking to clean up area with drug issues

STATHAM - Residents of Euclid, Peters and Ventura streets in Statham are demanding that neighbors, city officials and Statham police band together to clean up the decades-old drug problem once and for all.

"Nobody wants to be afraid to go outside and afraid to let their children go outside," said Hattie Thrasher, a City Council member who lives in the area. "We just want a nice neighborhood."

Statham's city limits stretch in roughly a one-mile radius from the town's well-preserved center, which holds turn-of-the-century brick offices and storefronts.

One street over, stunning century-old gingerbread homes stand under deep shade trees lining the city streets. In the cool of the day, homeowners sit on their front porches and speak with people passing by. Some of those houses open for Statham's Christmas Tour of Homes.

Strangers wandering through Statham would never imagine that just across the railroad tracks stands a neighborhood notorious for drug trafficking where dealers have run the area for decades.

"It's a 30-year-old problem in that neighborhood," said Police Chief Roger Tripp.

In a 15-month period, police officers answered 295 calls in the area and made 24 reports, Tripp said. Often those calls lead to an officer making an arrest elsewhere after leaving the neighborhood, he said.

"We patrol heavily, but the culture has been allowed to exist," Tripp said. "We've done undercover work with GBI and Barrow County (Sheriff's Department). It's a nice neighborhood of about 40 homes. We have had no violent crime to speak of. It's like, drive-up drugs."

Police efforts do a good job of eradicating the drugs and dealers, Thrasher said. But with a 30-year root growing deeply into the neighborhood's history, keeping them away is more difficult.

"One crew goes to jail and another crew comes and takes over," Thrasher said.

Soon, a police officer will be living full-time in the neighborhood. Police have the use of an area home where an officer and her family were installed about a year ago. For the cost of monthly utilities, police had the neighborhood spic and span within about four months, Tripp said.

"She moved out and they came right back," he said.

Thrasher relates stories of rental properties sitting empty because prospective renters were harassed by neighborhood bullies and of homes that won't sell because of their addresses.

"People should be able to come look at rental property in peace, and that was not what was happening," Thrasher said.

Aside from Thrasher, residents approached were reluctant to talk to the press.

Tripp and Thrasher both say it will take discipline within each home to clean up the streets, as well as constant police patrols and strong code enforcement addressing unkempt yards and junk cars.

"We have to get the residents to say to their sons and grandsons, 'You ain't living here if you're going to do that,'" Tripp said.

Thrasher said the streets are usually empty now at 10 p.m. She's not sure about later.

"It's gotten much better," Thrasher said. "We are not going to be afraid of them, and we will buzz the police every time. If it is in your house, you have to take care of it. And if you choose to live with it, well, the neighbors won't live with it."