Ramie Zomisky is moving out of her Pittsburgh neighborhood because of a lack of police response to a nearby house where drugs are sold, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She says: “You can see the drug deals. I’ve told [the police] they can come to stay in my house and look out the window, but they don’t want to do that. I find it hard to believe that nothing can be done to stop all the illegal activity going on.” In both urban and suburban areas, those upset with a persistent trouble spot become frustrated with the police just as much as with the troublemakers.
Police sympathize with the beleaguered homeowners and do what they can. But factors including manpower shortages, different priorities, and the need to observe constitutional rights mean they cannot always please citizens. “The most difficult problem to solve in policing is the problem house in the neighborhood,” said Pittsburgh police Cmdr. William Valenta Jr., who heads the narcotics and vice squad. Police can’t go around kicking down doors, detaining people, or searching homes without probable cause. “Just because someone pulls up in a car and someone comes out to talk to them, it’s not that simple,” says one official. “We’re not dumb. We know what’s going on. But the laws are such that it really doesn’t give us the reasonable suspicion or the probable cause to stop that vehicle.” When he receives a complaint about drug dealing from a home, Valenta said, the first thing he does is pull the records for 911 calls and police reports about the address. “If we’re not seeing 911 calls, the first thing I say is, ‘How big a problem can this be?’ ” he said.