Friday, February 6, 2009

Neighborhood Leaders Form “Safe Communities Task Force”

Jay Moran Speaks to Neighborhood Leaders

Neighborhood leaders and their members are frustrated by the city’s inaction or slow response to home and rental property code violations in their neighborhoods. Last Thursday evening at the Gish House in Old Southwest 20 neighborhood leaders and activists bluntly vented examples of inaction by thinly spread code enforcement officers. Jeff Campbell, President of Old Southwest and Chair of the Roanoke Neighborhood Advocates facilitated the meeting that resulted in a decision to form the “Safe Communities Task Force” (SCTF).

Campbell named several weekly rental properties on Mountain Avenue where tenants regularly engage in criminal activity – primarily drugs and prostitution. Prominent citizens in the community own many of these neglected properties.

The intent of the task force is to educate homeowners on code enforcement with the goal of strengthening city code and addressing a lack of timely enforcement. The Southeast Action Forum expressed dissatisfaction in the handling of “requests for service” that were “closed” but lacked resolution or explanation.

Steve Hanson, code enforcement officer with the City of Roanoke, said in a phone call Tuesday that he had just come from a meeting that emphasized this very complaint. Hanson said in the meeting that he stressed to the code enforcement officers to be more cognizant in their explanations when closing an online service request. Hanson said that many of the requests lack contact information or are anonymous complaints. He added that increased foreclosures have added to their workload. Bank-owned properties are being vandalized resulting in deterioration and neglect.

On the brighter side Hanson was encouraged by increased code compliance due to education efforts in the city and the full staffing of the 13 code enforcement positions. He credits City Manager, Darlene Burcham’s efforts saying, “she actually drives around” the city and brings issues to their attention. Jay Moran of the Williamson Road Area Association confirmed Burcham’s cooperation whenever he had brought issues to her attention. Moran in working with law enforcement and the city attorney’s office in a cooperative effort to address property in his neighborhood that has been ongoing for 5 years. Though Moran’s issue is on the verge of being resolved he is committed to citywide attention being focused on blighted city properties. “Blighted properties brings down adjacent property values resulting in tax base deterioration for the entire city,” said Moran.

In the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, Bill Braxton who prosecutes criminal code enforcement cases said, “the court is geared toward compliance not prosecution.” He understands the perception, as does Hanson that Judge F. W. Talevi is lenient when it comes to actual convictions. Talevi takes into consideration the financial resources of the individual and is more apt to give the defendant more time to come into compliance, said Braxton. According to Braxton one individual has served jail time in the year he has been with the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.

Leaders in the Southeast Action Forum have crime issues that in some instances have resulted in the exchange of gunfire.

Deputy chief of operations, Chris Perkins, said that law enforcement takes it as far as they can and understands neighborhood frustration. Calls for service that results in a homeowner or tenant repeatedly being criminally charged is frustrating for law enforcement as well. “Each case is different”, said Perkins and in some cases a judge will take into consideration extenuating circumstances such as an accused efforts toward drug rehabilitation. This may be of little comfort to those who live adjacent to these dwellings as they witness drug transactions and the brandishing of firearms in their front yards.

The taskforce will meet again on February 26 at a place yet to be determined.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Crime

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