FULTON, NY – Following several cries for help in restoring neighborhoods and ensuring security for homeowners, Fulton’s Fifth Ward has taken action by forming a neighborhood watch.
After bringing to light homeowner concerns at recent common council meetings including suspicious activity in neighborhoods, suspected drug use, and negligent properties, Fifth Ward councilor Dennis Merlino set up a meeting to form a neighborhood watch program.
Initially, representatives from Fulton Police Department and the Oswego County Drug Task Force were scheduled to address the group and answer probing questions from city residents.
However, a sudden emergency did not allow for either representative to be present.
Instead, the group of homeowners discussed their concerns amongst themselves, throwing possible suggestions for improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods into the conversation.
As more and more city residents have joined a group that routinely attends common council meetings and has vowed to take matters into their own hands to spark change, fears and speculation regarding suspected drug use or sale in specific areas has become apparent.
Councilor Merlino told the concerned group, the first piece of advice to follow when reporting a suspected drug deal is to call 911 and emphasizing that under no circumstances should they approach suspicious activity.
Learning from personal experience, Merlino recalled a time when he reported what he believed to be a drug deal and went to the area in question to see if he could take pictures or ensure there was action taken.
Instead of assisting, as was his intention, Merlino became inadvertently involved in the situation and hindered local law enforcement’s response.
Aside from that, he warned of the dangers of approaching a potentially harmful situation and urged all residents to call 911.
If a person is afraid of reporting a crime due to the fear of retaliation, a report can always be submitted anonymously, he said.
He encouraged neighbors who are suspicious that a property in their neighborhood may be a “drug house” to detail their concerns and pass them along to Merlino so he can alert the Oswego County Drug Task Force.
The Drug Task Force will then be tasked with initiating an investigation. If findings are credible, they would then have to send in an undercover officer to purchase drugs off an individual at the property in question before a warrant and/or arrest can be possible.
“Perhaps the biggest frustration in this is how long it takes to build a case,” Merlino said, reminding residents that though it may take even a couple years, to rest assured that the Drug Task Force is in fact developing a case and plan for each report following legal requirements.
Residents also discussed other issues such as thefts from cars or homes.
“We have to let them know we have a presence, we are all watching out for one another and we will see you,” Merlino said. “Sometimes even the slightest deterrents can make all the difference in whether you’re a victim or not.”
He suggested concerned residents look into motion detection exterior lights, keeping cars and house doors locked, and keeping garage and shed doors closed when not inside them.
For other day to day issues, Merlino recommended simply communicating with each other.
“A successful neighborhood watch will be based on building the trust on your street in your own neighborhood,” Merlino said.
Following drug use, the next most pressing concern was negligent property owners.
Merlino reminded the group that the common council has been making changes to address negligent landlords. Recently, the council passed a new law that gave city officials the authority to revoke all rental permits from a landlord who is past due in taxes or city bills.
Merlino confirmed that the city had just followed through on this law for the first time, revoking rental permits from a landlord in arrears requiring tenants to vacate and properties being returned to the city.
Fifth Ward resident Devin Hansen suggested that deterioration of neighborhoods can be prevented by addressing small concerns early.
“You mention everyday issues like an insistent dog barking. You don’t think that that is associated with a drug house or anything but there’s an obvious deterioration of a neighborhood that you see happen,” she said.
“It starts with, maybe all of a sudden there are a ton of stray cats around. Then, someone starts leaving garbage in their yard. Then, you have one loud, inconsiderate neighbor with a boat in their front yard. There different pieces of the puzzle that put together and you see, all of a sudden, drug dealers are there. That’s the stuff that has to stop in neighborhoods to stop it from climbing a little bit more and a little bit more. When you start to get people that will tolerate that crap in neighborhoods, what do you know? They’re drug dealers,” Hansen said.
Other neighbors agreed.
“We’ve let our neighborhoods deteriorate so much, nobody feels there is this standard anymore to keep up their house and their lawn. Everything becomes acceptable. The thing to do is to get people to be accountable for their slumlord houses so there’s incentive for the rest of the neighborhood,” Debbie Ely said.
The next neighborhood watch meeting will work to set up details regarding how the neighborhood watch will be run.
City and county officials commended the group for taking initiative and pushing for something such as the neighborhood watch to be formed.
“I’ve got all of you in the fourth, fifth and sixth wards but I’ve got you at a level to do what the county business is,” Oswego County Legislator Frank Castiglia Jr. said. “Not until this recent group started showing up at common council meetings did things start happening because the more people that are there, the more voices are heard.”
“People are well aware of the problems and they’re fed up. The people in Fulton decided it’s time they’re going to do something about it, and we’re going to work together to do something about it. There can’t be finger pointing, we’re in this together and we’re after the real problems. We’re out to rebuild the family communities we all want,” Merlino said.
The neighborhood watch will meet every first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at Fulton City Hall. All meetings are open to the public, including residents of other wards throughout the city, Merlino said.