The Dalton Police Department’s new municipal code enforcement plan has been in place for nearly 60 days and it is already leading to positive changes. So far, the effort has led to the demolition of a dangerous building and officials are working toward the elimination of several others; the department has taken more than 80 reports on code issues and also issued more than 30 notices of violation, the majority of which have been resolved quickly without further action.
The department assigned Officer Chris Cochran to full-time municipal code enforcement duties in early March. The agency also created a new website where residents can submit complaints about properties which might be in violation of city codes. So far, the site has collected approximately 20 complaints. The majority of complaints have come in by phone.
The new approach to code enforcement led to the destruction of a dangerous building at 931 East Morris Street in April. The building had been gutted by a fire but was still standing. The building inspector’s office had served notice on the owners in June 2012 giving 120 days to repair or demolish the structure. Officer Cochran found that neither had happened and no further action had been taken. Officer Cochran then issued a citation ordering the property owner to appear in Municipal Court. On April 17, the court ordered the owner to have the building demolished which was completed by April 30.
Two other abandoned and dangerous buildings (1120 Ridgeleigh Circle and 910 Avenue C) have also been through the court process and are awaiting demolition. In all, six citations for dangerous buildings have so far been issued. Other notices of violation have led to action on the part of property owners to remove debris and garbage from lots, remove fences that obstruct views at intersections, and the removal of abandoned vehicles.
“Considering the number of property parcels in the city—about 10,000, and the level of decline in some, I believe the progress so far has been excellent,” said Chief Jason Parker. “Officer Cochran has been diligently responding to complaints, investigating others on his own, and getting the assistance of other officers.”
The effort is intended not just to maintain property values and community pride but also to have a positive impact on crime prevention. Research suggests that areas where property codes are enforced experience less crime than areas where property is neglected. The so-called “Broken Windows Theory” states that areas where buildings are allowed to fall into disrepair experience more crime because criminals feel there is less order and residents are less vigilant. The theory was first put forth by researcher James Q. Wilson in a 1982 article in The Atlantic. In 2005, researchers from Harvard and Suffolk Universities found that when issues such as broken street lamps, litter, building codes were focused on in crime “hot spots” in Lowell Massachusetts, calls for service in those areas fell by 20 percent.
“The feedback from the community has been mostly positive,” Chief Parker said of the department’s renewed focus on code enforcement. “Most who are concerned would like us to move more quickly; we would like that as well but it will take some time to correct years of decline on some properties.”
Dalton residents who wish to contact the Dalton Police Department with concerns about code enforcement issues in the city can submit a complaint online at www.safedalton.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Officer Cochran can be reached at 706 278-9085, ext. 173.
Dalton’s municipal codes can be found online at www.municode.com. The sections governing dangerous buildings are 22-421 and 22-422.