March 30 2016 11:28 AM

Arrests soar after crackdown at S. Washington Park Apartments

Pressing to rid Lansing’s most troubled housing project of rampant crime, police made over a dozen arrests at South Washington Park Apartments during the first two weeks of March.

The list of charges includes narcotics sales of heroin and opiate, assaulting a police officer, felonious assault and more.

The crackdown, a response to a March 1 murder at the facility, was an abrupt change in tactics from the first two months of the year, when city police made just two arrests at the 190-unit, five-story complex located at 3200 South Washington Ave.

“You may not see us there, but we are there,” Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski, told residents and the City Council on March 11. He was addressing persistent crime issues at the apartment complex, just one of the housing project’s issues that include bed bug infestations, ineffective security and filth.

Attention to these issues is unsettling for Lansing Housing Commission officials, who bristle at comments from Council members and residents that the facility is not safe.

“LHC acknowledges South Washington is our most challenging property to manage,” Patricia Baines-Lake wrote in a March 23 letter to the Council's Committee on Public Safety. “Building design, building configuration, age of the structure and resident composition all add to complexity. However, it is not the horrible place to live which has been portrayed.”

The facility has been referred to on the street as The Carter — a reference to the public housing facility taken over by crack dealers in the film “New Jack “ — as well as the Tower of Terror. Residents have complained for years of violence, drugs, criminal activity, human urine and feces in the public areas and bedbugs.

The situation at the facility, which serves low income and disabled people, has been an ongoing issue since at least 2011. And the same concerns and issues remain — bedbugs, crime, safety. In 2011, neighbors of the Old Everett Neighborhood Association were so frustrated with ongoing problems there began calling the facility a “cancer” on the neighborhood.

The issues resurfaced earlier this year when Third Ward Councilman Adam Hussain met with residents who expressed concerns about their safety. He toured the facility, documenting conditions that included a broken security door, garbage in the hallways, as well as human feces. He presented these findings at the March 11 City Council committee meeting.

Then, as now, Baines-Lake downplayed the concerns. In the March 11 meeting she said little as residents and Council members complained about the safety concerns and cleanliness issues.

In her letter last week, she went on the counteroffensive. She accused Council members of overstepping its boundaries and making safety issues at the facility worse. Baines-Lake did not respond to a series of questions emailed to her Monday regarding her letter. Instead she issued a statement that did not address questions regarding the police crackdown and complaints from residents that they are regularly threatened. She asserted that the facility is “ not the horrible place” it has been presented as by residents and Council members.

After the March 11 meeting she acknowledged in an interview that she understood how residents could fear for their safety. In 2011, the commission allowed an LPD community policing officer to be posted in the facility. The agency also had onsite security guard. Both are gone, replaced by 28 cameras that can be viewed in real time by LPD officers in their in-car laptops. But she is not opposed to bringing back some security.

“I want someone there who has arrest powers,” she said rejecting the idea of hiring one of the security guard services in Lansing. “I want an off-duty Lansing Police officer or something like that.”

She was unsure what it would cost for a full-time, sworn officer. On average a patrol officer in Lansing can expect to make about $49,000 a year according to Baines-Lake told City Pulse in Aug. 2014 that security staff had been eliminated from the location because federal money could not be used for security. In the March 11 interview, she acknowledged that there is no obvious funding for such a position.

She said in that March 11 meeting that, despite years of denial that human waste in public areas was a problem, the facility was working to identify the person or persons responsible for repeatedly leaving human feces in the facility.

She also minimized concerns from residents and family members of residents who testified about their concerns.

“Many, if not all the complaints heard by the Safety Committee are from residents and residents’ family members who have received warning letters for lease non-compliance, eviction warnings and eviction notices or were evicted,” she wrote. “Residents who have no complaints do not attend ‘complaint sessions.’”

But Michael Hays, who has struggled with a bed-bug infestation in his fifth floor apartment since December, challenged that assertion.

Needing a break after the murder., he moved out for two weeks this month, returning over the weekend.

While he was away, LHC officials claimed they had served him with notice to prepare his apartment for bedbug treatment, but being away, he was unaware of the notice. .As a result, the pest control company showed up as scheduled by LHC to do the treatment, but his apartment was not prepared for it. LHC has now begun terminating his lease for noncompliance.

Tuesday, he suffered another blow: When he returned home, he found his place had been broken into.

“I’ve had enough."