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Reporting Drug Activity In Your Neighborhood

Signs of Drug Activity

Like all U.S. cities, Renton faces a growing battle against drugs. The police cannot solve this problem alone. Success requires community involvement.  It is important that you know what an investigation requires and how you can help.

It is often difficult to know if specific activity involves drugs, but some patterns may indicate drug activity:

  • An unusually large amount of traffic contacting a building -- cars, taxis, or people walking -- often at strange hours. Visitors may sometimes pound on doors or shout to be let in. This traffic is usually quick with people staying only a short time. Sometimes they don't go in at all; instead, someone comes out to meet them.
  • Finding drugs or drug paraphernalia (syringes, pipes, etc.) in the area.
  • Repeated, observable exchanges of items, especially where money is visible.
  • Offers to sell you drugs, or conversations about drugs that you overhear.
  • Noxious odors from or around the buildings, such as "musty" smells.
  • Buildings where extreme security measures seem to be taken.
  • Buildings where no owner or primary renter is apparent, and no home activities, yard work, painting/maintenance, etc., seem to go on.

Many communities have unpopular residents.  Obnoxious or peculiar behavior, a different lifestyle, racial or ethnic background, or economic level does not necessarily mean the person is a drug dealer.

How To Report Drug Activity

Do not assume the police already know, or that a neighbor will call. Do not assume one report is all that is needed. If the activity keeps on occurring, keep on reporting it. If the pattern changes, report that change.  All neighbors affected by the drug activity are encouraged to report.

In Progress

For drug activity which is in progress or needs an immediate police response, call 9-1-1. If a patrol car is available, an officer will respond.

On-Going

On-going drug activity, which police need to be aware of, but does not require immediate response, can be reported by calling (425) 430-7539. This reaches the Narcotics Section of the Renton Police Department. A police officer will take your activity report over the phone.

You can also email the narcotics sergeant with your concerns or tip information.   While you certainly can report drug activity anonymously, it is more helpful if you will give your name and phone number in case other information is needed. You can ask that your name not be released to anyone.

Officer Response

If a patrol car is free when you report drug activity, an officer will respond. However, drug deals are completed quickly and are often over before an officer can arrive.

Not Sufficient for an Arrest

Citizen reports usually cannot be the primary cause for a drug arrest.  Unless you have special training or experience with drugs or drug users, the courts will say an arrest based only on citizen testimony is not justified. Since few citizens can meet the strict legal standards, officers who do have the training and experience must make their own observations and collect evidence the courts will accept.

Provides Cause for Investigation

Your reports are still very important, even though they cannot be used as the direct cause for an arrest. They let the police know there is a problem, and they provide a reason for police to undertake an investigation of a person or location.

All narcotics activity reports are screened by the Narcotics Section. The investigation may include drug buys made by undercover officers or reliable police informants. These buys are the best evidence and must be made under carefully controlled conditions. During the period of investigation, you may not see any evidence of police activity.

If sufficient cause can be confirmed, a request is made to a judge for a search warrant for the building. Residents who possess drugs will be arrested. The court may release them on bail, however, and they may return to the neighborhood while they await trial. Dealers often move elsewhere, or stop dealing after an arrest.

When the warrant is served, a file is started under the abatement law which was passed in 1988. "Abatement" means the city asks the court to declare the property a public nuisance and allows the city to board it up for up to a year. If drug activity continues after the owner has been warned, abatement proceedings can be started. Abatement isn't a fast process however, and may require written neighborhood testimony on the impact of the drug operation on the neighborhood in order to succeed.

What Else Should Neighbors Do?

  • Contact Your Crime Prevention Coordinator
    Call the Crime Prevention Unit at (425) 430-7521 and ask for your area coordinator. They can provide additional valuable information and help the neighborhood develop procedures and strategies to deal with the crime problem. They can also be a liaison for you with the various units of the Renton Police Department that may be involved in investigating the problem.
  • Organize a Block Watch
    If you do not have a Block Watch, your Crime Prevention Coordinator can help you set one up. A Block Watch can inform neighbors who may not be aware of criminal activity and encourage them to observe and report it as well as you. A Block Watch can help deter future drug dealing in your neighborhood, and also help prevent other types of crimes such as burglary that often accompany drug activity.
  • Keep Your Block Watch Active
    When new neighbors move in, let them know you are a Block Watch neighborhood and invite them to join. This warns anyone moving into your neighborhood that you are alert and will report criminal activity.

Email the Community Programs Coordinator