When my cell phone rang at 9:17 p.m., it was Officer Rohatan calling to tell me that he and a few colleagues were planning a surprise visit to our street. "Tomorrow night, between 7:00 and 8:00," he said. "I thought I'd give you the heads-up."

Everyone in the neighborhood knows the Bad House. When I introduce myself to neighbors and they ask where I live, I say, "Near the Crack House." I call it the "Crack House" because that sounds funnier than "Meth House," but really, when it's on your block, neither one is all that funny.

No one has ever asked me to be more specific. Even people blocks away know exactly which house I mean.

This is a storybook neighborhood. The streets are lined with shade trees, and homes are single family with large yards. On our sidewalks, children play and people of all ages come to walk their dogs. The gentle curve of the narrow streets makes it feel old-fashioned in a pleasant way. Dan, who owns a water store nearby, grew up here and never left. “There’s no place finer,” he says. “People have worked hard to keep the integrity of the place and keep developers out. It’s a real neighborhood.”

In this area, real estate prices are still at bubble heights. The houses are a hodgepodge of styles, from modest prewar bungalows to replacement mansions built up high enough to get a view of the water. All are proud and tidy, except one. It’s exactly where you’d imagine the drug dealers would live. Random, sprawling additions made long ago and now in deep disrepair make the house seem like an untreated cancer. The paint job is slapdash, and unidentifiable debris litters the roof. There is an ever-changing assortment of clunker cars and vans parked out front. Weeds the size of bushes landscape the front yard.

But what really sets this house apart is the traffic it generates. Stand on our street almost any hour of the day and you’ll see them coming from all directions. Hornets to the nest, singly or in swarms, guys with thuggish scowls and dirty backpacks swoop down the street on bikes into the Bad House driveway and through the gate to the backyard.

“Runners,” a New York City friend tells me.

At night, the runners are joined by an indigent subclass, wrapped in blankets, clutching handfuls of change. These unfortunates flap down our street in the dark like giant bats. Through the gate they go, night after night, to what neighbors have told me is a flophouse set up in the backyard. In the dark, you can hear the coins rattling in their hands as they struggle to open the gate.

“Crack House Camp Land,” my husband jokes.

One day soon after we’d moved in, my son came to visit. He unloaded his car, then locked it carefully. After two men rode past us on low, BMX-style bikes, he checked the locks again. “Tweakers,” he said.

“Tweaker” is one of those words that sound exactly like what they mean. A tweaker is an addict on methamphetamine or other form of speed who displays manic, obsessive-compulsive behavior. As the Urban Dictionary says, “The crackhead will steal your shit and bounce — the tweaker will steal your shit and then help you look for it.”

“Tweaker” is the word I’d been looking for. It explained things I hadn’t been able to figure out about the Bad House. Like, why the people banged on a rusted-out car motor nonstop for a day and a half with a big wrench. Or why they’d move huge piles of junk from one corner of the yard to the other and then back again. Or why the backyard gate opens and closes a hundred times a day and nobody in the house seems to mind the fingernail-on-chalkboard screech of its old hinges, while the rest of us up and down the street grit our teeth, wince, and bear it, especially in the dead of night.

“Tweaker” is just one of the many lessons I’ve received in San Diego urban culture since coming to this lovely neighborhood.

Cops and Tweakers

How to talk to police has been another learning experience. I’ve talked to seven different cops since we moved in. Cop #1 came our first week on the street.

We moved back to San Diego after a few years away and chose not to return to our old neighborhood where we’d owned a home. Renting would give us freedom to sample new parts of town, and our old friends were envious of our newfound mobility. But this, the first little house we’d rented, and the neighborhood around it, were charming, and we imagined living here for years.

I was unpacking boxes when I heard a woman screaming outside the Bad House. From the window, I could see her and her target. He had jumped into a car driven by a much younger woman. As the car sped away, the older woman stood in the middle of the street and bellowed. The spectacle of her public anger was positively Shakespearean, and it exploded the sleepy midday like a pipe bomb. She’d kill the guy, she shrieked. Torrents of profanity and murderous epithets rained up and down the empty block. Still yelling, she threw the man’s things into the street. Clothing, a guitar, a few bicycles. Anything she could find, she threw.

It wasn’t I who called the police. I’d never called the police for anything in my life, and at that point, I had no idea that the 911 phase of my life had just begun.

The policeman who answered the call, Cop #1, told me it was a “Bad House.” He wouldn’t elaborate, but after the woman’s performance, he almost didn’t have to. His look at me through the squad-car window made it clear that living within a mile of her house was a big mistake. “Own or rent?” Cop #1 asked. Renters, I said. “Good thing for you,” he said and drove off.

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Comments

Evelyn March 7, 2012 @ 1:38 p.m.

fyi, reader, the story's cut off at the penultimate paragraph in the print copy. which is tres' sad.

also, i really want to find this neighborhood! mostly for my own curiosity.

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kittywinn March 7, 2012 @ 2:21 p.m.

(Thanks, blueevey, for appreciating the story's construction. That almost makes up for the READER's goof.)

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MsGrant March 7, 2012 @ 2:13 p.m.

Sounds like upper residential Ocean Beach.

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kittywinn March 8, 2012 @ 7:36 a.m.

It does, doesn't it? Sadly for SD, it could be any number of neighborhoods.

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David Dodd March 7, 2012 @ 6:46 p.m.

Very interesting story. I'm especially intrigued by your references to the police officers involved. You've made it very easy to sense your frustration here. But it's curious that you don't seem to sense theirs. For example, the amount of time and paperwork involved with arresting the bike thief, and he's back out on the streets almost immediately. Forgetting about the PR cops who showed up to the meeting, that's sort of meaningless stuff for the neighborhood you live in, I understand your misgivings about dealing with those people. The cops who actually patrol and respond to your calls, those people can't win no matter what they do. Have you considered dealing directly with the City? You'll probably find that politicians faced with bad publicity are likely going to find a way to deal with this sort of thing where the cops hands are otherwise tied.

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SurfPuppy619 March 7, 2012 @ 8:02 p.m.

For example, the amount of time and paperwork involved with arresting the bike thief, and he's back out on the streets almost immediately. = It can take up to 48 hours to process through the jail system, I doubt anyone arrested in SD is out on the street before paperwork is finished.

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David Dodd March 7, 2012 @ 8:16 p.m.

It's relative, SP. 48 hours is a lot more immediate than the cops want to see, not to mention the good neighbor folk. My point is that perhaps this particular issue is more of a system failure than a cop failure. And if that's the case, it has been my personal experience that politicians will often go out of their way to be very helpful, especially in an election year.

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Twister March 8, 2012 @ 8:53 a.m.

"To illustrate a point, you must omit much and exaggerate much." --Walter Bagehot

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kittywinn March 8, 2012 @ 7:22 a.m.

@Refried: Thanks for your interest. Absolutely I appreciate police frustration. I learned it firsthand from this experience, and it's one of the reasons for the story. That's why I note SD's budget cuts of police protection, and why I single out the commitment of "Officer Rohatan," who has been fearless and exemplary. Everyone should have such an officer on their beat. You're right about City Hall, as evidenced by the folks in Bird Rock. It would take a concerted effort by the owners on the street.

@SurfP: Yes, our bike thief was away about a week after the arrest. A hand slap,as far as I could see.

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Javajoe25 March 8, 2012 @ 11:14 a.m.

So, the consensus here seems to be there is nothing to be done about it. Or, "try calling your local Council person and maybe they can make the cops do their job." I mean, isn't that what you mean when you tell someone to contact their local politician?

The way I see it, the issue isn't what can we do when the criminals are back out on the street in 48 hours? The issue is whether the cop gets to decide which laws are to be enforced, and which are not. Just because the creeps are back on the street in 48 hrs does not mean the law should be ignored.

This is a quality of life issue for the residents. If the cops arrested and re-arrested the occupants of the crack house, and also brought charges against the owner, I think the problem would go away quite soon.

Why should the residents here have to put up with this because the law fails to do anything permanent? I wonder if the situation would be handled differently if this house were on the block where the cop lives?

No one should have to accept conditions like this because the police feel it's just not worth their while to do anything about it. The police get excellent salaries and are in the exalted position of having their pension and benefits protected--they ought to quit making excuses and do something to help these people.

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David Dodd March 8, 2012 @ 2:44 p.m.

"Or, 'try calling your local Council person and maybe they can make the cops do their job.' I mean, isn't that what you mean when you tell someone to contact their local politician?"

Actually, that's not what I mean or I would have presented it that way. Cops calls are prioritized. Bike thieves and meth addicts are not high priority. The city you live in has zoning laws. Using your city government to enforce those laws is one example I can think of off of the top of my head. I'm certain there are others.

They wound up jailing Al Capone for tax evasion, that was clever and creative.

Regarding your view of cops, knowing a couple who would be willing to tell you straight up how things work in their area would be helpful. Not the PR cops, just regular cops and detectives. Cops receive calls and those calls are prioritized for them, they don't have an opportunity to "feel" a certain way about them other than dread or relief at the type of call. Detectives are assigned cases, they don't get to pick which crimes they attempt to work.

The PR cops are going to give you a load of crap. There's obviously a psychology behind what they say and how they say it. They are trained to be that way.

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SurfPuppy619 March 8, 2012 @ 8:22 p.m.

The city you live in has zoning laws. Using your city government to enforce those laws is one example I can think of off of the top of my head. I'm certain there are others. == If you think the city will enforce zongn laws and thais the ticket you're dreamign refired.

/

They wound up jailing Al Capone for tax evasion, that was clever and creative. == The difference is Al Capone was public enemy #1, not a low level dope addict.

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David Dodd March 8, 2012 @ 11:25 p.m.

I don't think the city is going to do anything on their own, no. They will if either they are threatened to be voted out of office or if it becomes an opportunity for them to become re-elected. That's not a dream, I've used congressmen to get issues resolved lots of times.

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Javajoe25 March 8, 2012 @ 8:53 p.m.

I don't get the zoning law angle. Do you mean because the neighborhood is zoned "residential," and the crackheads are conducting "business," that they can be prosecuted based on that?

My point was, for most people, it is not one big major criminal act that occurs and goes unaddressed. It is usually a series of petty crimes; none big enough in and of themselves to warrant a raid, but a seemingly endless stream of petty annoyances and misdemeanor violations. It detracts from your life in ways that no one notices until someone goes postal and then it's the aggrieved party that gets carted off in handcuffs. It should not have to end that way, and it doesn't have to--IF...the cops act in response to ongoing complaints. Why do things always have to get worse before they get better?

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David Dodd March 8, 2012 @ 11:34 p.m.

The people in that house are probably guilty of a lot of zoning regulations. How much crap they have in their yard, how many people are there at one time, there are slews of zoning laws in most city codes. But just calling the right cop probably isn't always the best way to go about getting those laws enforced. That's up to the city. If it was me who lived in that neighborhood, I would gather up as many good people as I could and get to City Hall as soon as a public meeting permits it, and get that on the docket. Those people in City Hall are all politicians and they don't want the negative publicity.

Where I live that isn't an option. Just saying that if I had that problem and it was an option where I lived, I think that's one way I would approach it.

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pbchica March 8, 2012 @ 9:07 p.m.

Unfortunately, I know this house, its occupants, and "visitors" very well. It is a (once) lovely wood-shingled bungalow about a block from Mission Bay in Crown Point. It's a long story, but I after the tires and seat of my bike had been stolen, a girl I'd recently met at an AA meeting made introductions. Tweekers aren't inherently "bad people," but the drug brings out various levels of sociopathy depending on the person, their consumption, and desperation. Mothers lose custody of their children and continue to use in lieu of fighting to regain custody. I've tried the drug and have no idea why people enjoy it or why they'd choose to live like coyotes (or in storage units) to continue using. I don't know if a city or region can be definitively identified as a "Meth capital," but it has been in San Diego since WW2 and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. There is a house like the one in the story (to varying degrees) in almost every neighborhood. Why the uproar about this particular house...is it because it's in Pacific Beach, and not, say, Logan Heights?

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BlueSouthPark March 9, 2012 @ 8:09 a.m.

Oh boy, does this bring back memories. South Park in the early 1980s...at that time many of the homes were still occupied by an aging WW II generation. A 30-something meth-head son of a woman next to the house we bought was living in her garage. The woman died and the "kid" moved into the house. Every tweaker-behavioral pattern you described was soon on full view, like a terrible but entrancing horror movie, running 24 hours a day. The yard filled up with mounds of junk; people pawed though the junk night and day. They fought, sometimes with strange instruments we learned were called "throwing stars."

At that time, a cheap police band radio could be easily tuned to our police beat. We bought one, then started calling in fights between the tweakers. After realizing that police response to these fights wasn't going to result in permanent tweaker removal, we started tracking what the cops said to each other and how the dispatcher summarized our call and what was really prioritized. Bingo: stolen cars.

With a good pair of binoculars, we started paying attention to the cars and license plates of people living in the garage, yard, house: Different plates, front and rear. No plates. Punched-out ignition. Expired registration.

The calls to the police reported "suspicious people sitting in/driving/parking a car," plus make/model/plate info. This was what they needed. Almost always, makes didn't match plates or plates came back stolen. Outstanding warrants on car or owner. You would not believe the response. Multiple units.

That put a big dent in the problem. Our beat cops really wanted to help, and gave us more tips. We got Code Compliance involved and Child Protective Services.

It took a long time, and a willingness to go to court to testify, but the nightmare ended, finally.

One thing: we were looked down on, as being too snoopy and not just minding our business, by quite a few live-and-let-live neighbors who weren't willing to help. We didn't know them well enough to understand why, but some of them were 60s generation, like us, and probably were recreational drug users and sort of anti-cop, stemming from the era of protest and heavy handed police response. That was just silly in our opinion, and we forged ahead alone. cont...

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BlueSouthPark March 9, 2012 @ 8:17 a.m.

cont... There are still meth dealer rental houses in South Park, but the dealers there know to lie low and not trash the place. When their college-student-type customers start parking their nice cars away from the buy house, in front of our house, that's when either the renter-dealers or their landlords get a phone call and a warning. And the customers, sitting in their parked cars sampling the goods prior to buying, thinking they are invisible, are surprised by a visit from big guy who they think is just jogging down the sidewalk wearing earbuds. Jogger bends down, taps on the window: "Get out of this neighborhood, never come back, your license plate has just been phoned into the police." And jogs on.

It's funny to watch the panic. And we never see that same car again. The dealer-renter stops for a good while and goes somewhere else to deal. Or gets evicted.

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deniseathome March 10, 2012 @ 7:33 a.m.

Here is a link to an article, found ironically in the Chicago Reader: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/how-to-get-rid-of-the-local-drug-dealer/Content?oid=875133

In short residents got various governmental agencies to communicate and work together in getting rid of these people. The laws/agencies may be slightly different in the Chicago, Illinois area but we seem to have comparable agencies here. Hope this helps.

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kittywinn March 11, 2012 @ 10:41 a.m.

Terrific article, denise. I've been told that fighting a rental drug house (as in the Chicago story) is easier than fighting a drug-dealing homeowner. Don't know if that's true or not.

Maybe this link will work - http://tinyurl.com/7upyc8v

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David Dodd March 10, 2012 @ 8:12 a.m.

The link is broken for some reason, denise, but for anyone, hit it, and you'll get a google search option and the first entry that pops up works.

And yeah, these are people getting creative at solving the problem. Similar thinking and acting could help here.

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TAV1 March 11, 2012 @ 12:51 p.m.

Yes, how lucky Kitty is to be a renter. And how brave s/he is to speak the truth. It is a service to that neighborhood and all others like it.

It's a hopeless situation if people don't have the energy and time to stand up to them. Unfortuantely, it seems as though going down that road is neither straightforward nor easy.

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WhoKnows March 13, 2012 @ 11:06 p.m.

Thank you, Kitty, for this personal account of an unfortunate and all-too-common phenomenon. I read your piece with genuine interest and enjoyment, but wonder about some of the details. First, has anyone in the neighborhood recently (or, perhaps, ever) knocked on the door to try to talk to The Old Man, his son, or the girlfriend, or is the Bad House only considered approachable by criminals and the police?

Considering the parade of strangers who make their way safely in and out of the property, I'd be inclined to take a can of WD-40 to that back gate at my earliest convenience. But that may just be me and my own neighborhood m.o.

Do you suppose that a coalition of neighbors might be willing to stage a guerilla cleanup of the yard? I recognize that there's a larger concern at issue here, and that the aesthetics are merely a symptom of that larger problem, but it seems obvious from your article that there is no official, systemic hostility harsh enough to effect meaningful change, which at least suggests the possibility that "killing them with kindness" would produce more desirable results.

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kittywinn March 15, 2012 @ 7:34 a.m.

Oddly enough, the "cracksters" as we call them all, can be quite friendly, which feels a little like Eddie Haskell syndrome ("if we're really nice to people, they won't notice what we're doing.") I've also heard that some neighbors have a "pact" with them, that they won't steal their bikes. Making pacts with thieves or being friendly with violent, unpredictable criminals seems a bit naive -- or a lot like San Diego -- to me. Again, the Bad House is bad, but who it attracts is even worse.

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