Salem Police Department vehicles seen near Salem City Hall last November. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

A new team from the Salem Police Department will work with the city’s code enforcers to reduce the number of derelict buildings, drug houses and homeless camps.

Lt. Treven Upkes said the new “Problem-Oriented Policing Team” — or POP Team — puts three police officers in closer contact with city code workers to work in areas that have repeated low-level crime.

“Their job is to work for more of a long-term solution than one cop just showing up, making arrests and the problem is over,” said Upkes, the police department spokesman.

Upkes said the team was not formed as a direct response to any one thing, such as homelessness or a rise in crime. He said cities around the country have such teams.

In fact, he noted, the city has been trying to put such a team together for two years but staffing levels have stayed stagnant. Salem police recently reorganized to form it, pulling officers away from duties that could be done by civilians.

 “We don’t have time to do long-term, chronic situations, like a derelict house where we repeatedly get calls – things that need follow up,” Upkes said. “They have the time to address those issues.”

The team started work last month and it already has a case on its hands. Neighbors in south Salem have complained about loitering, littering, noise, trespassing and drug use since opening last year of Willamette Valley Comprehensive Treatment Center, a methadone clinic at 1160 Liberty St. S.E.

Salem City Councilor Tom Andersen, who represents the neighborhood, said after talking with city code enforcement that this would be an issue that falls to the POP Team.

Andersen said neighbors don’t have a problem with the clinic itself or its goals, but felt the clinic could be better managed.

“The tone of everything (neighbors said) was ‘We understand and support this type of situation. We feel for these people who ended up with a bad hand dealt to them, but what we have here is a management problem,’” Andersen said. He later added he's hopeful the two sides can come to a resolution.

Neighbors next door say the clinic brings hundreds of people through the neighborhood each day. One neighbor told Salem Reporter he regularly finds cigarette butts, diapers and syringes near his home and has witnessed fights.

Neighbors aired those complaints to the police team in a meeting on Monday. Jeff Schumacher, chair of the South Central Association of Neighbors, said the meeting went well.

“I think on the neighbors’ end it was a nice fit because the neighbors want to document all of these complaints they have, but they don’t want to wear out the police department by calling them every day,” Schumacher said.. “Neighbors are able to get on the record what their complaints are.”

Representatives from the clinic could not be reached for comment.

According to Upkes, the new team has talked with managers at the center, owned by Tennessee-based Acadia Healthcare, about solutions. He said they suggested the center hire more security guards and put up fencing, among other things.

“Ideally, what we’d want is that the business operates like any other business afterward and nobody calls for enforcement, they operate smoothly, they’re a great neighbor,” said Upkes.

Likewise, that will be the team's goal whenever it gets dispatched, he said.

“It’s like, here’s a hot spot that has more calls for service than the average place in town. If we change all these things, and people stop calling us and criminal activity dies down, our patrol guys don’t have to go there anymore,” he said.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.

WILL YOU SUBSCRIBE? If you haven't signed up for a digital subscription to Salem Reporter, please do so to support this kind of local news reporting, brought to you by a team of professional reporters. For $10 a month, you hire that team to work for you all month digging out the news of Salem. Sign up HERE.