WILKES-BARRE – The manager of the Sherman Hills housing complex said Tuesday he is at a loss to explain a recent rash of criminal activity, but vowed the complex will continue efforts to ensure the safety of residents.
Bruce Wallace said the complex has implemented several programs, including paying more than $100,000 a year to city police for extra patrols. He’s now looking at additional security measures in an effort to curb crime, including the possibility of installing cameras.
The complex on Circle Drive is one of several low- to moderate-income housing complexes in the city. Data on the number of crimes committed at each complex could not be obtained Tuesday. But news stories contained in The Times Leader archives show far more incidents occur at Sherman Hills than other housing complexes.
Most recently, Aaron Baxter, of Philadelphia, was shot to death in a hallway of unit 332 on June 19. On Sunday, city Detective Joseph Bitzer was injured after being pushed down a flight of stairs in building 332 while attempting to apprehend an escapee from the Luzerne County prison work release program.
There have been multiple other violent incidents as well. In December 2007, Anthony Nelson was shot in the leg during an attempted robbery. In November 2005, Darryl Williams was killed and another man injured in a shooting outside building 320.
“People are starting to call it ‘cop hill’ because the cops are always here,” said a man who has lived at the complex for nine years.
The man and several other residents interviewed Tuesday declined to give their names out of fear of retaliation. He and others said they don’t think management is doing enough to investigate tenants to weed out those who might cause trouble.
“I’m scared to walk around here,” said a female resident who has lived at the complex for six years. “It wasn’t bad when I first moved in, but now with all the riff-raff they’re bringing in, it’s pathetic.”
Wallace said a credit check and criminal background check is performed on all tenants before they’re approved. The problem is not the tenants, he said, but strangers who are entering the buildings without permission.
“The people causing the issues are not the residents and they’re not even guests. They are unwanted subjects,” Wallace said.
Sherman Hills consists of an eight-story high-rise with 104 units and eight garden-style buildings that collectively have 240 units. The problems have been in the garden-style buildings, Wallace said.
Wallace said he believes the design of the buildings contributes to problems. The buildings consist of a complicated system of interconnected hallways that link individual apartments. There are six entrances to each building, which allows individuals to enter any hallway undetected.
Wallace said that makes it difficult to identify the tenant whom the person was seeking. Other complexes with different designs, such as Boulevard Town Homes, don’t have that issue, he said.
“At the (townhomes) if I have a problem with you I know it’s you because they’re only going into your unit. Here you could be going into any of 30 apartments,” he said.
City Police Chief Gerry Dessoye said Tuesday that management at Sherman Hills has been cooperative. He declined to reveal specifics, but said police are continuing to discuss other initiatives to reduce problems there.
Wallace said one of those initiatives is a private contract with police to provide foot and vehicle patrols in the buildings and grounds. He noted he recently asked police to increase patrols from 45 to 60 per month.
He said the patrols are helping to reduce the number of strangers entering the building. In recent months, city officers have cited numerous people with criminal trespass for being on the premises with no known purpose.
“They ( police) have a list of all the residents’ names. If a subject can’t state who it is they are visiting, it could lead to a warning or a citation for criminal trespass,” Wallace said.
“People are starting to call it ‘cop hill’ because the cops are always here.”