Monday, January 14, 2013
Breeding Safety Hazards and Slums
Speech to Grants Pass City Council, March 2, 2011
I have lately been talking and writing to our head Community Service Officer, Jeff Geddings, about violations of our nuisance codes in my neighborhood. He belittled my complaints as too petty to bother people with. He made it perfectly clear that the CSOs will not enforce our weed and litter nuisance codes until a property becomes a health and safety hazard. Since health and safety hazards are covered in a different part of the code, our nuisance codes do not get enforced at all.
If City police enforce only against health and safety hazards, they thereby allow such hazards to develop. A major point of nuisance codes is to keep such hazards from developing. Litter attracts more litter, which attracts bigger trash, which becomes a safety hazard, along with the weeds growing up through the rubbish. Obviously vacant properties also attract vagrants who add more danger. If police would tackle the little, seemingly petty things, the big things would mostly not happen.
I complained about some occupied properties last week; I was warned not to do so in one case by my housemate, who says that the man is a hot-head and dangerous. This is how enforcement by complaint against safety hazards alone leads to slums.
People in poorer parts of our cities have been trained by the drug war to distrust police, and to be afraid of certain neighbors. Our police reinforce that training by belittling our seemingly petty complaints about litter and weeds, so people who are not afraid to complain eventually give up, and inure themselves to the mess, which only gets worse. Eventually even police are afraid to enter such neighborhoods, just as they are reluctant to confront the belligerent who thinks his yard is his trash can.
Geddings told me that people will argue with police if they tell them to pick up a few pieces of litter in their yards. Cry me a river. Police don’t generally argue; they tell one to tell it to a judge. It is far kinder to make one pick up a few pieces of litter than to make one clean up a health hazard.
In this matter, our police act like a dysfunctional parent, picking up after her children or ignoring their mess rather than risking an argument by trying to make them clean up after themselves. It isn’t pleasant to be a professional nag, but that’s what we hire them to do, to confront people over whom we don’t have the authority. I ask you to tell them to actively enforce our nuisance codes, and stop breeding safety hazards and slums.
Published at Yahoo Voices under Land and Liability #13.