WILKES-BARRE — The city’s One Strike program is working, Mayor Tom Leighton said Thursday at a press conference.
He said in the past year, the city has shut down 27 units and confiscated firearms, drugs and cash. He said 14 of the units have reopened, 13 remain closed.
“The city’s One Strike Ordinance has been an effective tool,” Leighton said. “We won’t turn a blind eye to the poison on our streets.”
The ordinance was first enacted on Sept. 11, 2013, in an effort to combat drug trafficking and illegal firearms possession in various neighborhoods of the city, the mayor said. Under the One Strike Ordinance, a rental unit or structure may be shut down for six months if the occupants are charged with possession of narcotics and illegal firearms found inside the apartment or unit.
Leighton said in the past 12 months, the Wilkes-Barre Police Department’s Anti-Crime Tactical Unit, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Police, Luzerne County Drug Task Force, Attorney General’s Office and the Pennsylvania State Parole Office, executed 30 search warrants during drug trafficking investigations in various locations of the city.
The outcome of the investigations related to the One Strike Ordinance included:
• 58 total arrests.
• 16 illegal firearms removed.
• 8,940 packets of heroin and large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs seized.
• $191,070 in cash confiscated.
• 27 units were shut down and closed for six months by the city’s Code Enforcement Office.
“The progress of the One Strike Ordinance will not cease or slow down,” Leighton said. “We will continue to aggressively enforce it against those who choose to violate its terms. The safety of our neighborhoods and the community have always been, and will continue to be, my primary focus since taking office.”
Leighton said the ordinance was crafted as part of the city’s continued approach to tighten regulations of rental properties in the city that he said have historically been a breeding ground for much of the narcotics trade and crime issues that jeopardize the integrity of our neighborhoods.
“When we developed this ordinance, we did not set out to punish property owners and law-abiding tenants,” Leighton said. “We want property owners to take pride in their tenants, and also instill a sense of responsibility to not simply value the profits of a rent check over quality of their renters.”
Leighton said in 2013 there was a significant escalation in violent crime that prompted the city to increase efforts to aggressively combat drug trafficking and remove illegal firearms and other weapons from dangerous individuals.
“The first shut down occurred approximately one year ago on Carlisle Street and we continue to see much success in terms of overall results of the anti-crime investigations,” the mayor said. “Our work, however, is not done and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to target crime.”
Leighton said his “resolve” as mayor has always been to clean up the city. He said it is the responsibility of every resident and property owner to report crime when it occurs to assure safety in the community is restored.
Police Chief Gerard Dessoye said when federal agencies, like the FBI, conduct raids, the city receives a portion of the cash that is confiscated. When state agencies like the Attorney General or the county District Attorney are involved, the money is split between both offices and is often shared with the city for purchases and improvements at the police department.
Leighton said the One Strike Ordinance has been used at the crime-plagued Sherman Hills complex. The mayor said one unit/apartment was shut down. He noted that the city can’t shut down an entire building at Sherman Hills, just the apartment where the criminal activity occurred.