Bert Hayes dug in a file cabinet, chose a old log book at random and began reading.
"Business owner complaining about narcotics and alcohol," said Hayes, a community liaison officer with the Tacoma Police Department. "Transient problem. Alcohol problem. Another alcohol problem. I just opened to a random page."
And that was just the morning of April 1, 2006.
"I can go through any book and flip page after page after page after page and probably a full half of some of my months were transient-related, alcohol-related, panhandling-related problems," he continued. "If we can eliminate these problems, it frees up a huge amount of time to devote to other problems."
See why he’s such a supporter of the proposed Alcohol Impact Area in Tacoma’s South End and Eastside?
When Hayes met community leaders in Sector 4 – which encompasses the Eastside – they agreed that public drunkenness had to be reduced. Many calls for service were along walking paths to schools in the area, and it led to a score of other problems, from an increase in public dumping to public health problems.
"We didn’t originally think about the AIA program," he said. "We just talked about how we were going to fight the problem on the street. It became apparent it was too big. It was a very big problem."
The positive results of Tacoma’s original Alcohol Impact Area encouraged neighborhood leaders. They organized walking tours of the area and discovered discarded cans and bottles. (Olde English 800 was the most common.) The neighborhood groups, many of which rarely collaborated on projects, joined energies and grew in strength.
"I don’t have the time, nor do I think it’s proper for the police department to spearhead something like this," Hayes said. "It has to be community-driven. And that’s what happened with it. They took the ball and started running with it.
"We had every almost every community group on the Eastside and others in the South End talking and building alliances. From that point, the communities took it over and ramrodded it through."
The proposed AIA is part of a three-pronged plan with the housing-first initiative and panhandling ordinance to fight chronic homelessness, Hayes said. And a reduction in homelessness frees up police officers to work on other cases.
"For me, the whole push from my end is a reduction of crime in the area and reduction in calls for service," he said. "A lot of time, the public looks at this and says, ‘Well, you’re just getting the drunks and the panhandlers off the streets.’ No, it’s not just that. If we can eliminate the calls for alcohol-related problems, that’s more time to deal with someone breaking into your car or the gang problem or whatever."
The southern boundary of the proposed AIA is 72nd Street – also the edge of city limits – but there aren’t many stores along the edge that sell the high-octane drinks. That means residents of unincorporated Pierce County shouldn’t expect the problem to be pushed southward.
Many believe Tacoma’s panhandling ban and closure of homeless camps led to a migration south of the city limits.
"I envision them leaving the city, but I don’t think they’ll go to (unincorporated) Pierce County per se," he said. "Some will, but I don’t envision them going to Spanaway. There are just not the resources there for them. They don’t have a rescue mission. They don’t have Nativity House. They don’t have that out there. They’re going to go some place where they can readily get food and other food. I imagine many of them will go to Seattle."