Ernie Anderson of Havre de Grace said he has watched drug dealers on the streets for too long.
"If we let it continue, I guarantee someone will die," he said last week at the first meeting of the Havre de Grace Homeowners Association. "It's a lack of respect of the drug dealers. We need to address the problem because it's been ignored too long."
Anderson, a four-year resident, said he got involved because his wife, Dawn, was threatened by drug dealers for reporting a problem. The harassment stopped, he said, but the drug problem has increased.
In response to a growing problem of open-air drug dealing and two incidents of shots fired in the past two weeks, the association was created, said acting Chairman Peter Ianniello said at the meeting, held at Havre de Grace United Methodist Church
Residents formed the organization to improve the quality of life and safety of residents in the city. Another part of the its mission is advocating eight steps toward eradication of open-air drug markets: establishing a sense of urgency, creating a change coalition, providing vision and strategy, implementing broad-based action, communicating intolerance for drugs, generating short-term wins, consolidating gains and producing change to create a new culture.
"The eight steps communicate future focus," Ianniello said.
He said that supporting and working with the Police Department and government officials would make a difference.
Havre de Grace Mayor David Craig said he has implemented efforts to improve the city. He said he knew of the widespread problems because he deals with the public safety on a daily basis. The city is working with the Harford County Drug Task Force, adopting three ordinances and increasing police officers on the streets.
Police Chief Randall Holt , said 30 arrests have been made since the holidays, and many of them have been drug-related. Last month, police had 26 adult arrests, 15 of which were drug-related, and 14 juvenile arrests, five of them drug-related.
"The number of arrests appears to be higher than normal," the chief said, attributing the increase to the number of people roaming the streets.
"One thing about this town, to do anything you have to go to Bel Air, which is 20 minutes away," he said. "Many youths are confined to the city."
He said the town's affordable housing attracts a sometimes questionable clientele.
"The problem is, it is fairly easy to get a renter," said Linda Hughes, broker for Wards & Hughes Realtors Inc. in Havre de Grace, who is concerned for her new office and her investment property in the city.
Landlords need to be concerned with screening renters, Hughes said. She said many aren't putting money into their properties and consistently keep them rented, and that the people who want to rent are not desirable tenants.
"Many landlords say, `Why should I fix up a place when I can rent it anyway?'" she said.
She gave as an example a rental duplex she owns and has begun renovating.
"I decided I don't want to be a slum landlord," she said, and when her last tenant left, she started to fix up the place.
"There is a very large problem, and it needs to be attacked in a number of ways," Hughes said.
The city also needs to keep criminals in jail and increase bails, she said. "If we make it easy, they know they will be able to get away with it," she said.
If problems persist, desirable tenants will move, she added.
"It is not just a landlord problem, but certain communities where families are allowing this to take place," said Councilwoman Barbara Ferguson.
Over the years, Ferguson said, she has seen the drug problem increase and the problem ignored. She said she became a councilwoman because she was concerned about what going on and wanted to help people.
Ferguson said she wants a safe community for children.
"It is about protecting our children," she said. "It is about being in a community and being able to walk the streets and sit on your porch and not have to worry."