By Jaimee Lynn Fletcher
In a room full of people with guns on their hips and badges on their chests, Vicki Morgan was armed with only a clipboard.
At first, it was intimidating.
But Morgan would learn, in some cases, her clipboard can be more powerful and more persuasive than anything else in that room.
That was 19 years ago, and it was the first time Westminster’s code enforcement division paired up with police for a joint operation to shut down a problem home known for criminal activity.
Police staged an operation and, although there wasn’t any criminal activity occurring to make arrests, Morgan found several code violations ranging from hazardous wiring to un-permitted structures.
Flagging problem areas and demanding the homeowner bring the property into compliance was enough to urge the occupants to move along.
“It stops the illegal activity,” said Morgan, Westminster’s code enforcement manager, who pointed out she does, in fact, have a badge but doesn’t wear it like an officer does. “That’s how it started and it’s been a really great partnership ever since.”
Police and code enforcement have worked over the years to remedy tough-to-enforce situations that crop up in the city from illegal massage businesses to homeless encampments at vacant businesses to homes riddled with narcotic activity.
Westminster’s operation is unique in that the code enforcement team, which includes four full time officers and a part-time officer, is housed in the police department.
In many cases, police field complaint calls from residents reporting suspicious activity or eyesore properties.
While officers and detectives are well-versed on the penal code, Morgan and the team have another set of codes committed to memory that can serve as important tools in many situations.
“We work jointly together,” said Westminster PD Sgt. Jim Kingsmill, code enforcement supervisor. “It lets the businesses and the residents know that the police department and code enforcement are on the same page.”
In one case, code enforcement helped shut down an illegal gambling operation fronting as an Internet cafe, which are not prohibited in the city.
A hoarding home that later was discovered to be a residence for drug use and sales was shut down after code enforcement found a collection of kittens stuffed in cages, illegal subdivisions on the property and people in tents living in the backyard, among other violations.
“It turned out the owner of the home didn’t know what was happening in the house, but ultimately it is their responsibility,” Morgan said. “The owner ended up fixing the home, cleaning it up and selling it. It’s a beautiful home now.”
The list of violations property owners can get dinged for are lengthy, but among the most common are business licensing issues and illegal construction.
Code Enforcement Officer Jorge Perez, who has worked for Westminster for 11 years, had another success story with a recent nuisance property case.
At the notorious home on the west-side of town, police made multiple arrests over many months for various offenses, but the criminals continued to cycle back to the house after brief stints in jail.
Perez went to the home and found a long list of violations including inoperable vehicles scattered on the back lawn and makeshift bedrooms built in the home.
So Perez meticulously noted the violations and checked on the property until the owner complied. The theory is the occupants were so fed up with the visits and requests for changes that they moved on.
“They cleaned up the house and a lot of those people moved out,” Perez said. “In some ways, we can do a lot of things the police can do, but we do it more administratively.”
And ultimately, Perez added, the police and code enforcement are after the same goal: a safe city.
“We work hand-in-hand and it’s great.”
For more, go to http://www.behindthebadge.com .