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CrimeBeat: What should I do if there's a drug house on my block?

CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers' questions about local crimes and the law.

I suspect someone on my street is selling drugs. Every day, I see cars pull up to the house for a short time and then leave. Should I call police?

Call police, but first take some notes.

How often and what times of day do vehicles arrive? How long do they stay? Write down license plates and vehicle descriptions, but only if you're able to do so without being noticed, Petaluma Police Sgt. Ed Crosby said.

“We don't want anyone encountering or confronting people,” Crosby said.

Don't be disappointed if it takes possibly weeks or months for police to investigate whether drug sales are taking place. The investigation typically starts with a patrol officer keeping watch in the neighborhood.

Traffic coming and going at all hours of the day and neglect of the property are common signs of criminal activity.

“Those are two indicators there's something going on there other than very sociable people,” Crosby said. “They tend to not take care of the property because they're consumed with addiction themselves, and they're preoccupied with selling drugs.”

The officer will look for probable cause to stop a vehicle leaving the house.

“You find legal probable cause to stop a car, then you deal with that violation,” Crosby said. “If a driver has a suspended license or a warrant, or if they're on probation, you may be able to search the car. If they have nothing, then you say have a nice day, and they're on their way.”

The officer will be looking for evidence pointing to drug sales at the property and looking for lawful reasons to get inside.

Increasingly, officers are turning to city codes to address drug issues because of reduced sentences for drug-related crimes, which means city code enforcement officers may get involved, he said.

“We have different avenues we can use to approach the problem provided we have probable cause to get into the house,” Crosby said.

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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