STANISLAUS COUNTY — In one of the highest crime areas in Stanislaus County, five businesses account for two-thirds of the calls for law enforcement and other emergency services.
Three are motels that once lodged travelers on the old Highway 99 route through Modesto. But according to service call records from the Sheriff's Department, they are now hangouts for drug users, places where fights erupt between tenants and violent crimes occur.
Records for 2012 show that Shiva's Motel, Arrow Inn, Modern Trailer Park, Budget Inn and the Brave Bull dance club generated 613 of the 931 calls to the unincorporated areas of South Ninth and South Seventh streets on the edge of Modesto.
The incidents included a homicide, fire, numerous fights, armed robbery, battery, burglary, parole violations, trespassing, drug violations, public drunkenness, indecent exposure and public nuisances. Units responded to those locations almost 70 times on calls for medical assistance.
Shiva's Motel and Arrow Inn topped the list with 165 and 164 calls, respectively, or about a third of the contacts by police or emergency services.
This area, stretching south from the Tuolumne River to a bend on the Highway 99 freeway, is a world avoided by many Modestans. The auto part, tire, boat, paint supply and U-Haul dealers along with auto wreckers and convenience stores are able to pull customers who travel on the short commercial strips.
In recent months, about 35 of these merchants have asked for better protection from the Sheriff's Department and banded together to protect their businesses from rampant burglary and theft.
Sheriff Adam Christianson said the records show criminal behavior is clustered around motels and other properties that house drug addicts and other offenders. Drugs are a prime motivation for burglars and thieves who prey on nearby businesses, he said.
The sheriff said some motel owners knowingly allow criminal activity to occur on their premises.
"We are benchmarking what they are doing in an effort to hold them accountable," Christianson said. "They basically have two choices: They can work with us to abate the criminal activity or we will work tirelessly to put them out of business."
Catch and release
Deputies frequently make arrests on South Ninth and South Seventh streets, but those charged with nonviolent offenses are soon back on the streets. State prisons are no longer taking "low level" offenders from counties. And a shortage of county jail beds means that most are released to alternative programs, the sheriff said.
"They are not being held accountable," Christianson said, noting that drug crimes are not taken seriously by state lawmakers. "It's viewed as a programming effort. There is no fear of going to jail anymore for being addicted to drugs or narcotics."
City officials took action against a crime-plagued hotel in downtown Modesto last year. The Modesto Inn on Needham Street was ordered to correct numerous building code, health and safety, and fire code violations. Officials threatened to condemn the structure if the owner did not control criminal activity, which had spilled into the adjacent neighborhood.
The owner has done extensive renovations and renamed the hotel the Knights Inn.
South Ninth Street merchants who are fighting back claim that certain motels rent substandard rooms to tenants at weekly or monthly rates. Drug- dealing and prostitution are commonplace, they said.
County officials say they need to see complaints to investigate substandard housing, but tenants involved with crime don't often file such complaints. Christianson said seedy residential properties can be targeted for "red light abatements" and his department is researching other ways to deal with criminal hot spots in south Modesto.
A person in charge at Arrow Inn, who refused to give his name, said he disagreed that motel owners are responsible for the area's problems. He said many calls for police to the motel at 515 S. Ninth St. are for police to remove trespassers.
"People are hanging around the motel for no reason at all," he said. "It has been controlled quite a lot. There have been fewer calls."
Last year, deputies responded to 15 trespassing calls at Arrow Inn. Other calls included 22 verbal fights, burglary, malicious mischief, suspicious persons, forgery, indecent exposure and subjects with outstanding warrants.
Sumintra Prasad, owner of Shiva's Motel, declined to comment on the call volume for her motel at 735 S. Ninth St. On average, deputies or other agencies went there 14 times a month last year for incidents such as a homicide, strong-arm robbery, a structure fire, fights, battery, petty theft and drug violations.
Joseph Warren, manager of Budget Inn on South Ninth, said the ownership changed in June and the new owners are making improvements to secure the property. A fence and gate are almost finished to keep trespassers out, and a camera system will watch the site.
Some of the motel's tenants are clients of social service agencies who receive help with their rent, Warren said.
"Myself or the night manager are here 24 hours," he said. "Right now, I have three or four families in the motel. I have not seen the cops here in the last 20 days."
Last year, the motel generated 115 calls, including reports of a residential robbery, strong-arm robbery, fights, battery, suspicious circumstances, malicious mischief and a deceased person.
Owners of Modern Trailer Park and the Brave Bull could not be reached.
The Brave Bull is a fixture on the South Ninth strip. Long known as a gay bar, it gets negative and fervent online reviews as a place with raucous music on the wrong side of town. In 2012, it generated 51 calls for incidents such as fights, armed robbery, battery, a person brandishing a weapon, vehicle burglary and suspicious circumstances.
Lloyd Gleaves, a business owner who has organized merchants, said break-ins on South Ninth have tapered off since he started night patrols in a vehicle with signs reading "Security Patrol: South Modesto Merchants."
After nightfall, the illicit trade picks up along the streets. Gleaves said he has watched car after car pull into one motel, with people getting out and going to the same room.
He believes commercial burglaries that net thousands of dollars in stolen property are done by professionals, who watch the businesses and may get help from petty thieves living in the neighborhood.
"We drive around at night and let them know we are here," Gleaves said. Merchants also are creating an email chain, holding meetings and installing more lighting.
Christianson said a business watch is another thing that can make a difference in one of south Modesto's most notorious areas. "Having someone there watching and reporting will have a positive impact on some of these issues," the sheriff said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.