City Struggles To Solve West First Problems

SATURDAY, AUG. 3, 1996

For nine years, city officials have tried to sweep the drugs and thugs off the 1100 block of West First Avenue.

They’ve opened police substations and cop shops, increased patrols and even asked local clergy to counsel people who hang out on West First in an effort to clean up the area.

It hasn’t worked.

The City Council’s public safety committee, police brass and other officials will meet Monday to discuss possible solutions for the crime problem on what police officers call “the block.”

The meeting begins at 11 a.m. in the fifth floor conference room at City Hall.

“Hopefully, we’ll come up with some rational, sound plan that isn’t some draconian thing,” Mayor Jack Geraghty said Friday. “There’s no reason why those folks who live there have to feel - in effect - prisoners in their own rooms.”

Police Chief Terry Mangan has worked on a new strategy for driving the criminals off West First since last weekend’s drive-by shootings left six people wounded there.

Police arrested two men in one of the shootings - Robert Esparza, 31, and Travis Lanphier, 25.

On Thursday, prosecutors upgraded the charges against the two men from five counts each of first-degree assault to five counts each of first-degree attempted murder.

Prosecutor Jim Sweetser said he hopes the change sends a message that such violence won’t be tolerated.

Mangan refused to discuss his plan until Monday but hinted that he will need more officers and more overtime money to slow the escalating violence.

Council member Jeff Colliton said Friday he hopes to increase patrols in the area with existing officers.

“Maybe we can shift personnel around among districts without added costs,” Colliton said. “But we’re going to do it even if we have to spend some money.”

Geraghty, who earlier this week suggested calling out the National Guard, said it will take more than extra cops to break the drug and violence problems that consume West First.

Business owners, community activists and church leaders must come together to attack the “root causes” of the problem, including drug addiction and poverty, the mayor said.

“This has to be a community effort,” he said.

, DataTimes MEMO: See related story under the headline: Cops fight for control of West First

See related story under the headline: Cops fight for control of West First

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