SARANAC LAKE - Few people were surprised when police showed up at 155 Broadway during a roundup of suspected drug dealers just over three weeks ago.
Police, neighbors and nearby business owners say the dilapidated, three-story apartment house is a haven for drug activity in the community.
"They get more traffic in there than McDonald's right now. It's just ridiculous," said a neighbor named Dave, who declined to give his last name. "There's a lot of traffic in and out: Five, 10, 15 minute stops, then they're gone."
Police arrive at 155 Broadway in Saranac Lake during a multi-agency roundup of suspected drug dealers on the morning of Aug. 28.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Saranac Lake police Sgt. James Law, right, and other law enforcement personnel stand on a covered porch at 155 Broadway during their search for suspects in an Aug. 28 roundup of alleged drug dealers.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"They're very open and blatant about it," said Lauralee Kunath, who runs the neighboring DJ's Rustic Restaurant. "We watch it go on as we have coffee, wondering how long it's going to be until (police) clean it out again."
155 Broadway is owned by Bob Decker, who owns multiple apartment houses in the village. The Enterprise called the listed phone number for Decker Wednesday, but the person who answered the phone hung up after the reporter identified himself. Messages left Tuesday and Wednesday on a cellphone number for Decker that the Enterprise was given were not returned.
When teams of local, state and federal law-enforcement personnel gathered in the village police station on the morning of the Aug. 28 raids, 155 Broadway actually wasn't on the initial list of locations where they were seeking their "targets." However, Saranac Lake police Patrolman Casey Reardon told the group they'd probably end up there.
"If you drove by it this morning, you probably looked at it and said, 'Aw, what a dump,'" Reardon said.
When the Aug. 28 roundup was over, police had arrested three tenants at the apartment house - Joseph Williams, Shannon Emmons and David Dean - and are still searching for one more: 30-year-old Wesley R. Strack, who police believe is in Colorado. They executed a pair of search warrants in two apartments that resulted in one of the largest heroin seizures village police have ever made - 6 ounces - along with 2 ounces of crack cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine. The street value of all those drugs was roughly $12,000.
This was far from the first time police had been to 155 Broadway. Village police Chief Bruce Nason told the Enterprise his department responds to that location more than any other in the village, and most of the calls are drug-related.
"155 has been the most consistent location that we've been to," he said. "I know just from experience. We've been to that location probably more than any other over the last few years for both calls for service and arrests. I'm sure that if it isn't specifically related to drugs, that drugs have some involvement in 80 percent of our calls to that location."
After reviewing the department's records at the request of the Enterprise, Nason said police have answered 21 calls at 155 Broadway since Jan. 1 of this year. Less serious calls were for noise complaints, domestic disturbances and disorderly conduct; others were reports of burglary, theft and assault.
Nason said the apartment house is at the top of a list of several properties in the village that police respond to frequently. The next busiest is 12 Bloomingdale Ave., he said.
If police know a location like 155 Broadway is a haven for criminal activity, what can they do about it?
"We attack it from different investigative angles," Nason said. "If we have the support of someone who will actually go in and make a buy, that's the avenue we prefer. There are other avenues. We can sit and watch the location, traffic coming and going, and if there's a reason to stop somebody or we develop enough to go interview the people that are living there, we can approach it from that as well."
Kunath said police can only do so much.
"They clean it out, and within days, of course, Mr. Decker is moving people right back in," she said. "It's just a cycle. I really think it's more up to the landlord. We have rentals upstairs (of DJ's). The police have never been called to our building for any of our tenants because it's let known to them right when (they) move in we will not have it - any of it: the drugs, the partying, the lounging outside, the throwing your garbage outside.
"I wouldn't believe (Decker) doesn't know what's going on," Kunath added. "He's there all the time. You see him hanging out with these kids, talking with them."
Asked if police have ever approached Decker to discuss the problems at 155 Broadway, Nason said no, but they have talked with other property owners where there have been similar problems.
"We'll ask them about what they're hearing, what they're seeing, activity that their tenants are reporting to them, and see if we can develop a lead to get into that particular location," Nason said. "As far as telling somebody they can't rent to certain people, I don't think we have the authority to do that. But if there's a problem that's been brought to (the landlord's) attention and they don't do anything to help resolve the situation, they have to take some responsibility. Some of the (other locations) previously we may have been going to, we did get assistance from the property owners, and we were able to correct the situation so we weren't responding to the same location time after time after time."
While police haven't reached out to Decker about 155 Broadway, village Code Enforcement Officer Tom Worthington has been in regular contact with him to deal with complaints about the condition of the building. According to village records, Decker has been cited 17 times for state building and property maintenance code violations at 155 Broadway since January 2010. Three of these cases were still open as of Sept. 4.
Kunath said the building's condition and its reputation as a drug house have made it an eyesore for the community.
"If I'm a tourist and I'm driving through town and I see that and when they hang out outside, I think I'm going to step on the gas and keep going, as opposed to stopping," she said.
Another local resident who owns an apartment house agreed that 155 Broadway is an eyesore, but he also said it's a necessary evil.
"I have to tell you, there's a place for the slumlords; there really is," Jon Bombard said. "Where are all these scumbags going to live? Either we're going to have to have slumlords, or they're going to sleep under the bridge. They're not sleeping at my place."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.