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April 4, 2013

At a Cedar Street duplex, a young family walls out what ails the city


A year ago, just before the Police Department reconstituted a narcotics unit that had been disbanded for two years because of budget cuts, the visits by prostitutes, addicts, vagrants and illegal dumpers became so frequent that Serrano erected the solid six-foot fence on all sides, giving his home a fortress feel.

Serrano recently began asking for help from City Hall, where he’s gotten mixed results from a city that sometimes seems overwhelmed by the challenges it faces on the street in the state’s most impoverished municipality.

Police visited the properties three times over the last week after Serrano called to report men and women injecting drugs or smoking what he said appeared to be crack cocaine, but there have been no arrests. On Tuesday, two people scattered when police approached and a third was issued a no-trespass order. No drugs were found.

“The alleyway is an ideal spot for drug use since the overgrowth shields the suspects from the street view,” Officer Ariel Montas said in a report he filed after visiting the properties Friday. “I will address this issue with (the Department of Public Works). Extra checks of the area are requested from all shifts and the narcotics unit will be notified as well.”

“I walked that alley,” Captain Roy Vasque, chief of the narcotics unit, said yesterday. “I did see hypodermic needles all over the place. Mattresses. Some clothing. I feel for the homeowner, no doubt about that. We told him we’d keep an eye on it for him. If we have to lock people up, we’ll do that.”

The response from the Department of Public Works was more delayed.

“The man who picked up the phone said, ‘There’s nothing we can do because we don’t have enough people,’” Serrano said about his first round of calls to the department. “I said, ‘Excuse me? What do you mean there’s nothing you can do? What if one of my kids (picks up) a needle and because they don’t know what it is, they get hurt?’ He said, ‘What do you want me to do? If we go in and clean that, in less than a month it’s going to be back to trash. Because that’s what people do in Lawrence.’”

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