Topics / CRIME : City Nuisance Law Closes Houses Linked to Crimes

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The quaint blue house with the well-kept garden on Pomona's Farringdon Avenue belies what once went on inside its walls.

According to police, the residence was a hub of gang and drug activity.

On Friday, authorities plan to seal all the windows and doors in the home for four months in an attempt to rid the neighborhood of a public nuisance. Since 1989--when the Pomona City Council passed an ordinance allowing the Police Department to evict tenants and board up homes plagued by illegal activity, police have shut down between 20 and 30 homes, businesses and hotels deemed to be public nuisances.

Because the ordinance is broadly worded, it allows police to target any residence or facility where illegal activity occurs or where controlled substances such as alcohol are sold.

The program has been extremely successful, said Pomona Police Chief Charles M. Heilman, primarily because of input from residents. Where drug dealers and prostitutes once roamed the street, children now ride bicycles, he said.

"It's been one of the best crime-fighting tools," Heilman said. "The whole temperament of the community is getting safer."

Pomona police say they receive several calls each day from residents afraid to leave their homes because neighboring houses or businesses are being used for illegal activity.

A typical case takes three to seven months to investigate. Police work with residents and owners of the house, warning them to stop the illegal activity or they will be evicted. Officers may keep homes under surveillance, sending undercover detectives to the house to buy drugs.

Once arrests are made, paperwork may be filed to have a property declared a public nuisance. The city then holds a public hearing, which allows police and the occupants of the house and their attorneys to agree to terms.

Violators of the ordinance can have their properties boarded for up to one year and can be prevented from living on their properties for an indefinite time thereafter. They can also be placed on probation for up to five years.

Additionally, the city can revoke the licenses of businesses targeted under the public nuisance ordinance. For instance, Pomona police are working to revoke the license of a motel that has generated 62 complaint calls about prostitution in three months.

In the Farringdon Avenue case, the house will be boarded up for four months and the owner will be prohibited from living there for one year after the boards are removed.

Rosalio Batres, who lives a block and a half away from the Farringdon house and is active in his Neighborhood Watch group, said he supports boarding up houses where illegal activity occurs.

"By doing that we got rid of a lot of problems," Batres said. "It's something that we should celebrate."

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