Reagan-Era Law Seizes Private Property
Federal Operation Forces Property Owners To Fight Drugs At Their Own Expense
Property rights fall victim, once again, to bloated government. Here are some excerpts from a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For six years, owners of a tiny strip mall in northwest Atlanta have asked government officials to help rid the area of drug dealers.
The government's latest response: Hire our off-duty cops to patrol the strip mall or we will take your property.
The individuals who own the Hollywood Plaza in northwest Atlanta have not been accused of any crime. They pay their taxes. They call 911 when there is a problem.
But the owners have been caught up in the U.S. attorney's Operation Crackdown. It is a program aimed at cleaning up crime-ridden areas of Atlanta by shifting responsibility from police to people who own property where drug dealing flourishes. If owners don't comply with government demands, the feds can go to court and attempt to seize the property.
Many city businesses opt to hire off-duty police officers to provide extra security. It's a choice they make, an expense they factor into the cost of running their business. The owners of Hollywood Plaza weren't given a choice.
Metal grates and bars cover all the windows at the Hollywood Plaza, which has two convenience stores, a pool hall, a soul food restaurant, a beauty salon and a laundromat. Drug dealers often hang out in front of the pool hall or sit on a wall across the street from the mall.
Police made at least 32 drug arrests there from January of 1999 to September of 2000, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. One day in May, police received 20 calls at the strip mall.
Major Vince Moore, commander of the Atlanta police precinct that includes the area around Hollywood Plaza, is a big advocate of working with the U.S. Attorney's Office to clean up drug areas. He believes the federal intervention led to cooperation of the strip mall's owners and eventually will lead to a better neighborhood. "We can go lock up people all day long . . . but when the owner gets involved and cleans up their property then things get done," he said. Without the possibility of seizure, some property owners aren't motivated to make improvements, he said.
Atlanta residents pay taxes for 1,800 police positions, but only 1,425 cops are working for the department. That number does not include recruits in training.
Even if 1,800 cops were working for the department, there would not be enough to post an officer on private property, said Major Calvin Moss, police spokesman.
Operation Crackdown has its roots in laws passed during the Reagan administration. In 1984, America's drug war targets expanded from people to property when Reagan signed bills allowing federal civil seizures of private property that officials claimed was connected to drugs.
Hollywood Plaza's owners installed tamper-proof security lights, removed all pay phones to keep drug dealers from using them and bought a chain-link fence to keep people from walking between the Hollywood Plaza and a high-crime park behind the strip mall.
In the meantime, off-duty police, paid for by the Hollywood Plaza owners, will continue to guard the strip mall.
The off-duty cops at Hollywood Plaza have not made a single arrest since they started working there July 5. An attorney's office spokesman claimed the requirement to hire off-duty officers is not a corrupt payola program for police, but an "innovative" way to quickly clean up a problem area.
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