Ten years ago, the Riverside Apartments on Olson Drive were a hotbed for drugs and violence. Drug deals took place in broad daylight, residents said. And police made arrests for assaults there almost every month.
But the neighborhood has seen a dramatic turn-around. Last year serious crime at the Olson Drive complex dropped to its lowest in a decade.
“It ain’t that bad here anymore,” said April Johnson, who lived at the apartment complex for 20 years before moving out six months ago. “It was crime like crazy. Every building they were selling drugs.”
Now, Johnson said, “It’s calmed down.”
A Decade Of Arrests
Not all residents at the federal apartment complex said they’ve noticed a change. But numbers released by the Ansonia Police Department earlier this month show a steep decrease in serious crime there.
In 2000, the Olson Drive neighborhood logged almost half of the city’s arrests for serious crimes like murder, assault, drug crime, robbery, rape and weapons violations.
By 2010, only about 6 percent of the city’s serious crime took place on Olson Drive.
The Ansonia Police Department tracks crime in each of four areas of the city — the east side, the west side, the Hilltop area and Olson Drive.
In 2000, Ansonia police made 148 arrests for those serious crimes at Olson Drive — about 44 percent of the all serious crimes in the city that year.
Most of those incidents were narcotics related.
Over the past 10 years, the number of serious incidents reported at Olson Drive dropped from 148 to only 13 last year.
Police and housing authority officials point to a stricter enforcement of trespass and eviction policies to explain the steady decline in crime.
Ansonia Housing Authority Director James Finnucan said the housing authority keeps track of the people arrested at the apartment complex. The arrests can uncover other issues with a given tenant — such as an overcrowded apartment, which is a lease violation.
The authority follows up on those non-criminal items. Finnucan said last year 16 tenants were evicted for various violations.
“I’d say it’s improving,” Finnucan said. “Our policies have helped to eliminate some of the more serious problems.”
The police and housing authority instituted an aggressive policy targeting non-residents. Now people on housing authority grounds have to have a reason to be there, such as visiting a resident. It’s no longer a hang-out spot conducive to criminal activity, Ansonia Police Chief Kevin Hale said.
Police pay close attention to who is in the neighborhood, and whether they belong. People looking to do crime now know there’s a good chance a police officer will talk to them.
“Enough people know that it is a serious policy that is enforced,” Hale said.
In addition, police presence is routine along Olson Drive, with some officers on a first-name basis with residents.
Some residents said they’ve noticed.
“The people causing crime are not out here any more,” resident Quintez Haley said. “They’re either locked up or they moved.”
But others, who declined to be named, said some of the measure meant to cut down on crime end up negatively affecting the people who live there.
“The police are most of the problem,” said one man, who wouldn’t give his name, “because of the way they harass the people here.”
Despite an overall decrease in crime, both of the city’s two murders in 2009 happened inside the walls of the Riverside Apartments.
“My sister got killed here, right here,” Pat Evans said, on walk through the neighborhood Thursday. “I stay my ass inside the house now.”
Evans is referring to Bernice McFadden, who was the unintended target of a stray bullet shot into a crowd gathered at the apartment complex on a summer night in 2009.
“Bullets don’t have no names,” Evans said Thursday.
Police still haven’t found the shooter.
They arrested a suspect in a fatal stabbing a month before McFadden’s death, when 22-year-old Jennifer Lewis was stabbed to death on a balcony.
The two incidents were among only 17 serious crimes at the apartment complex in 2009.
“They can’t keep the crime from coming in here if people still let the crime in,” Johnson said.
Show Me The Numbers
Some residents were surprised to hear about the sharp decrease in crime.
“That’s pretty good. I’m not sure I can tell you I see the difference, but I’m impressed,” said Malika Mosely, the president of the residents association at Riverside. “Sounds good to me.”
But, Mosely, who has lived in the apartment complex for eight years, said she never thought it was that dangerous.
“I’m from the Bronx,” Mosely said. “This is nothing.”
Barbara Boyd, who has lived at Riverside for the past 25 years, said she hasn’t noticed any change.
“I’d sure like to see those numbers,” Boyd said.