default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
Logout|My Dashboard

Lodi Police Department escalates war on blight

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 10:50 am, Wed Jan 30, 2013.

It might seem like just a broken window in a vacant home or a junk car in the front yard, but Lodi officials know neighborhood blight is a clue that points toward something more sinister.

The signs of a run-down neighborhood can foster crime and gang activity, Police Chief Mark Helms said, which is why the city is devoting more resources to its code enforcement department.

Soon, Lodi will hire a full-time officer to handle all calls and a part-time officer devoted specifically to deterring gang violence.

The part-time officer will be hired through the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention grant Lodi received in March. The two-year grant gives the city $250,000 to both start and continue a variety of programs to reduce gang violence in Lodi by 25 percent.

"Gang members and gang families typically occupy rental properties, so this would be working with the landlord to clean up the property," Helms said. "We have a great tool fighting crime with code enforcement."

The Lodi City Council signed off on increasing code enforcement's reach in the community at a shirtsleeves earlier this month.

Mayor JoAnne Mounce, who lives on the Eastside, said there is a clear connection between blight and the increase of crime and drugs.

"(Blight) fosters the grounds for crime to hide and grow. If you clean up the neighborhood, you do not have the crime that you would have because you are sending a message that their business is not wanted here," she said.

Since 2010, there has only been one code enforcement officer and a part-time administrative clerk.

Currently, the one officer responds to calls as diverse as basketball hoops in the street, unpermitted car covers, vehicles in a yard covered with tarps, broken windows in a foreclosed home, a collapsed garage, an excavated basement or hoarders with so much trash it becomes a safety issue.

The two new employees are needed to help deal with a 35-percent increase in code enforcement calls since 2008, Helms said.

In 2011, there were 971 Code Enforcement cases, including 554 for nuisances, 214 for substandard or dangerous housing issues and 203 for zoning.

"We prioritize," Helms said. "Our two staff members take the information and find out what needs the greatest attention at that time. They are struggling to keep up with the workload."

One of the main increases has been in calls related to empty homes, which in many cases are bank-owned. The calls are often for vandalism like broken windows, which can lead to transients living in the home, or property maintenance issues.

Those types of calls are concerning, Mounce said, because they can lead to other problems in neighborhoods.

"Those are the things that deteriorate a neighborhood visually. Those are the kind of things that will foster gangs. If there are two windows unbroken, they will break them. If there are items in the front yard, they will pull them out in the street or set them on fire," she said.

Currently, members of the Lodi Police Partners have helped ease the workload by frequently inspecting vacant properties.

The volunteer organization, made up mostly of retirees, also helps with checking businesses to make sure they have parking stalls for people with disabilities, handling towing of abandoned vehicle, responding to people who file complaints, taking photos of property and following up on nuisance complaints that include trash cans in view, debris or cars in a yard.

Councilman Bob Johnson questioned whether the city should look at raising the initial $100 fine for code enforcement issues, hoping to lead to quicker compliance. He said that, for example, someone who rents out a home in Lodi but lives in another city might not care what happens in town.

Mounce commented that she has especially noticed that problem on the Eastside where some of the apartments are owned by property management partnerships with post office boxes.

"(City employees) are challenged all the time to get someone to respond to their issues, and as a result we have apartments on Locust (Street) that are just disgusting and riddled with gang properties," Mounce said.

Staff explained that when someone receives a citation and refuses to comply or pay it, it gradually increases and can reach around $1,300. After several attempts to contact the person with no response, the citation is sent to collections.

City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said he often receives calls from people once it goes to collections because they are concerned about their credit history. But there is a group of people who are "credit proof." Those type of people do not use credit or own property and do not have the money to pay the fines, Schwabauer said.

The addition two officers will also allow the police department to be more proactive in enforcement, Helms said. Starting in 1996, the department mainly focused on responding to calls, but this will allow the department to target problem areas.

Council members also verbally agreed to change the name of the department from Community Improvement to Code Enforcement. Helms said the name is confusing because a majority of people ask for a Code Enforcement Department when they call the city.

Another suggestion from the council was that the Code Enforcement Department choose some problem areas and do a sweep using additional officers. Helms said the council would then likely get phone calls from people feeling that Code Enforcement personnel are being overly aggressive.

City manager Rad Bartlam said the public usually views code enforcement from one of two perspectives.

"We get complaints on both sides of the spectrum," Bartlam said. "Some say you are doing too much, and some say you are not doing enough."

Councilman Larry Hansen said he would rather see the department targeting problems than holding back because of public perception.

"If we can get a team together and go out and do a sweep, I'm fine with getting the phone calls," he said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

More about

More about

More about

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Use your real name. You must register with your full first and last name before you can comment. (And don't pretend you're someone else.)
  • 2 Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually oriented language.
  • 3 Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
  • 4 Be truthful. Don't lie about anyone or anything. Don't post unsubstantiated allegations, rumors or gossip that could harm the reputation of a person, company or organization.
  • 5 Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 6 Stay on topic. Make sure your comments are about the story. Don't insult each other.
  • 7 Tell us if the discussion is getting out of hand. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 8 Share what you know, and ask about what you don't.

Welcome to the discussion.


Popular Stories


Should graduations return to the Grape Bowl?

Lodi Unified leaders are moving Lodi and Tokay high school graduations from the Grape Bowl to the Spanos Center at UOP in Stockton. They cite limited seating, costs and unpredictable weather at the Grape Bowl. But others say graduations at the Grape Bowl are an important Lodi tradition, and one reason many supported renovating the stadium. What do you think?

Total Votes: 100


Mailing List

Subscribe to a mailing list to have daily news sent directly to your inbox.

  • Breaking News

    Would you like to receive breaking news alerts? Sign up now!

  • News Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily news headlines? Sign up now!

  • Sports Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily sports headlines? Sign up now!

Manage Your Lists