A broken window or a rusted car in the front yard may be a headache for a homeowner, but according to Hermiston’s nuisance ordinance, it can also attract crime and affect livability. The Hermiston Police Department has recently revamped its code enforcement strategy, with a second part-time officer and potential technology updates.
The goal, said Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston, is to increase livability and reduce victimization in the city.
Edmiston said the police department has supported code enforcement for years, but the responsibility has bounced back and forth between different departments in the city. For the past two years, the city’s Parks and Recreation department oversaw the nuisance abatement program, and employed a former Hermiston police officer, Mike Marcum, as a part-time code enforcement officer.
In July, the responsibility returned to the Hermiston Police Department, who has hired Tom Spicknall, a former Oregon State Police sergent, as a second part-time officer.
The two split the job on weekdays, with Marcum covering mornings and Spicknall covering afternoons. Marcum also works the job for some hours on Saturday.
“Livability issues can have an impact on crime,” Edmiston said. “A well-kept, well-lit property is less likely to be a victim of a crime.”
He said that while the Parks department was responsible for code enforcement, they made progress on bringing several derelict buildings down.
The officers will also talk to people about things like overgrown lawns, trees hanging over the road or broken-down vehicles in their yards.
“We don’t like to tell people to cut their grass,” said Capt. Travis Eynon. “People believe these are pushing the envelope on personal rights — but somebody’s overgrown lawn may affect the neighborhood, creating a fire hazard or a rat harborage.”
He added that the ordinances lay out specific violations, and are all publicly available on the city’s website.
The officers will start by contacting the person who owns the property, and ask them to fix the problem. If the property owner doesn’t do so within a stated period of time, the city will have a contractor go in and fix it themselves, and then place a lien on the property for that cost to the city.
“That has worked better than citations,” he said.
Many times, Edmiston said, the problems are on properties where the landlord does not live in Hermiston, and the properties are not maintained.
“At some point with chronic landlords, we may go straight to a citation,” he said. “It’s a waste of time for everyone to have to continue to babysit certain properties.”
He said sworn officers will still handle some issues, like animal complaints.
“Not because they’re fun, but because they’re emotionally charged,” he said.
Edmiston said the department also plans to look into some other updates to the nuisance abatement policy, including some software programs, which will allow officers and city employees to know what the code enforcement officers are doing so they don’t duplicate one another’s work.
He said during the winter months they will also review policies to see if they need to make any upgrades or amendments to nuisance ordinances.
He also encouraged residents to call the city or police department if they have violations to report.
“If we wanted to be 100 percent proactive on code enforcement, there would be a lot of unhappy people,” he said. “We’re trying to balance between being proactive and being complaint-driven. But at the end of the day, the goal is to make sure the city doesn’t have hazards and look unappealing.”