Jacksonville city leaders are mulling fighting crime the same way they do overgrown grass and derelict trucks in front yards.
The City Council recently drafted an ordinance that, if approved, would let the city declare properties public nuisances if they’re sites of persistent criminal activity. Some city officials say the ordinance will provide another way to deter crime and clean up neglected properties.
The council first reviewed the draft ordinance during its regular work session Monday. The council is expected to have further discussion and a first reading of the ordinance at its next meeting.
“I think it could help,” Mayor Johnny Smith said. “It’ll give us something else to work with and might make it easier for us to take care of situations that need some help.”
The city currently declares properties public nuisances for a variety of reasons, such as dilapidated homes or overgrown grass. Under the draft ordinance, the city could declare properties public nuisances for persistent criminal activity — repeated occurrences of verifiable and credible complaints of dangerous or disturbing activities prohibited by city ordinance or law.
The proposed ordinance permits property owners to create and implement actions to fix any issues before city moves to the nuisance abatement phase. Also, the council would hold a public meeting on any offending property before voting on any civil abatement action.
Jacksonville officials said the ordinance is heavily based on one the Anniston City Council passed in 2015.
Tana Bryant, Anniston’s code enforcement officer, said the ordinance has been used about six times so far. Most of the properties in question were mainly being used for illegal drug activities, Bryant said.
“The ordinance has been used successfully,” Bryant said. “We have property owners that are willing to take care of their properties before it having to go to court.”
Jacksonville Councilman Jimmy Harrell, who is also an Alabama State Trooper, said he proposed the ordinance. Harrell said he’d recently received complaints from some residents about certain properties and thought such an ordinance could help.
“There’s complaints of potential drug houses and in-and-out traffic during all hours of the night in more established neighborhoods in the city,” Harrell said. “It’s not good for any neighborhood really to have that reputation or look.”
Assistant police Chief Bill Wineman said there is no one spot in Jacksonville where there is a major problem of derelict or neglected properties with criminal activity.
Wineman noted that any vacant property can attract criminal activity if left alone long enough.
“We have a lot of property owners who don’t live around here and leave those properties in disarray,” Wineman said. “When you have an abandoned home and it sits for any length of time, kids end up partying there and doing drugs there ... people start stripping out the copper.”