By VIRGINIA ROSS
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- City officials have established a drug house hot line that residents can use to report suspicious activity in their neighborhoods.
The new Narcotics Awareness Hotline is acting as a call center that receives anonymous tips and provides residents with a direct link to city police.
When calling the number, (724) 656-3067, you will hear a message asking for the address of the house where you suspect illegal drug activity is occurring.
Mayor Wayne Alexander said he believes the hot line will be effective because it allows concerned citizens to make a report anonymously, as opposed to calling 911, where reports are traced to callers.
Officials said messages left by tipsters will be reviewed daily.
Alexander said the establishment of the hot line is one of several resources the city is using to fight crime, specifically illegal drug-related activities. Officials have identified several suspected drug houses in the city, most of which are on the South Side, he said. He added that list of houses is to be reviewed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh.
Earlier this month U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan visited the city and explained a federal law that holds landlords liable for drug problems taking place at their rental properties. Buchanan explained that owners of drug houses could face prosecution, fines and the threat of having their properties seized. Maximum penalties are 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. A maximum civil monetary penalty of $250,000 may also be applied.
Alexander said owners of properties in the city are being notified and asked to meet with officials in an effort to resolve the problem before action against them is necessary.
He said city officials believe many of the problems are arising because of an increasing number of drug dealers coming into the city from Detroit. Police have reported responding to several shootings and other problems recently.
"We're willing to work with these landlords to resolve the problem," he said. "We'll do what we can to help them. I think some of them may be aware of what's going, but some are not. We're hoping they cooperate and we can get something done to rid our neighborhoods of this activity."