The proposal, which would be new to Cobb County, is already used in Arizona, California and Texas. It has been denounced by Councilman Philip Goldstein, but city attorney Doug Haynie said it is legally sound.
In related news, the council’s Public Safety Committee has approved a proposal to create an area along Franklin Road that would enforce higher penalties on those who are convicted of drug-related crimes.
The crime reduction program would require apartment complex owners to sign a criminal trespass affidavit, allowing police to search the outside of the property and look for violations of fire, health or city regulations, Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn said. Police would look at things such as lighting, fencing and landscaping and require the apartment complex to comply with property regulations and suggestions by police to reduce crime in the area, Flynn said. Each complex
would be required to participate for at least six months and would have to pay a $250 fee, according to the proposal.
The Public Safety Committee, which is made up of Johnny Walker, Michelle Cooper Kelly and chaired by Anthony Coleman, voted 3-0 in favor of the proposal on May 28 at the request of the Marietta Police Department.
The matter now heads to the full council for discussion at the agenda work session meeting June 9.
Specific complexes that would be targeted by the ordinance have not yet been decided, Flynn said. The program would also require apartment complexes with inordinately high crime rates to be proactive to reduce crime by holding regular crime watch meetings.
Police plan on using formulas to calculate the average number of crimes per 1,000 people at each apartment complex, Flynn said, then the department will compare that rate to the average amount of crimes at all the apartment complexes in the city.
The city’s average crime rate has yet to be determined by police, but it will be calculated using a formula that will take into account the total number of apartment complexes, their occupancy level and how many people each complex can hold.
“When we find complexes above the average, then they can be designated as being required to participate in a mandatory crime reduction program,” Flynn said.
Goldstein questioned the legality of the crime reduction program when it was presented to the Public Safety Committee.
Goldstein, who owns a large amount of property in Marietta, said he thought the proposal violated property owners’ rights.
“Since when do we take away their rights to operate their business?” he asked.
In a larger sense, Goldstein said, the mandatory nature of the program made it violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects property owners from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government.
“We’re not a police state,” Goldstein said, adding police officers should not be allowed to search a business without the property owner’s permission or a warrant.
In response to council member comments, Flynn said the mandatory nature of the program was being reconsidered and discussed this week in preparation for Monday’s meeting.
Goldstein is firmly against the current version of the proposal, saying the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution were ignored in its making. He said the program is a shortcut to deal with code violations that are already being handled by city entities, such as when the fire department enforces the fire code.
“I candidly don’t understand where we have the authority to adopt this,” Goldstein said. “I don’t understand where we get the authority to come back and tell people that own property, ‘You don’t have the right to run your business.’”
The city’s attorney said he found the proposal legally sound.
“It is my view that it is valid and gives the city authority to do what police want to do,” Haynie said.
After police tell an apartment complex it is required to take part in the program, it can appeal the decision with the Board of Zoning Appeals and ask the police department to show its crime rate calculations, which gives the complex due process in the decision, Flynn said.
“The things that we find when we inspect the property — we look at the code enforcement — health regulation, fire regulation — and each one those, if they’re in violation, carries its own penalty,” Flynn said.
The police chief said he thought the proposed ordinance was a step toward working alongside the apartment complexes instead of against them.
“Our goal is not to be punitive with this and not to put anyone out of business. Our goal is just to make it safer for them,” Flynn said.
Frank Rotondo, executive director for the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs, said this kind of program is widely used in western states.
“This is a proactive approach,” Rotondo said.
He said he approves of the program and thinks the Marietta Police Department is one of the best he has seen in his more than 20 years in the position.
“I see this as a very, very good approach,” Rotondo said. “It is sort of forcing people who are apathetic to do what’s best for the stakeholders of the property.”
The proposed mandatory program was built off of an existing voluntary one in Marietta called the Crime-Free Housing program, Flynn said. Participation levels in the volunteer program were low, he said, so police want to help them reduce crime by making them comply with city codes. Only eight out of the total 46 apartment complexes in the city participate, Flynn said.
“I see it as forcing them to work with us to correct the conditions that are causing higher crime,” Flynn said.
The City of Roswell has a similar voluntary program, and Roswell Police Officer Jeremy Bringle said 29 of 31 apartment communities in Roswell participate in it.
“In my experience, when you mandate people to do something, they’re less likely to do something and take part in it,” said Bringle, the officer who heads the crime-free program in Roswell.
Bringle said the program in Roswell enhances communication among the complexes and police, and Flynn said his goal with the proposal is to work with property owners.
“Under existing nuisance abatement ordinance, we could move to revoke or suspend or not renew the business license of the apartment complex and essentially put them out of business,” Flynn said.
The mandatory nature of the program, Flynn said, gives the apartments an “opportunity” not afforded to them in the city’s nuisance ordinance.
In other business, the Public Safety Committee also voted 3-0 to
approve an ordinance that would create a drug-free zone along Franklin Road and Delk Road. It would give anyone caught committing a drug-related crime in the area a greater punishment if convicted.
“If the maximum time you could have gotten on a crime was 10 years, it could be 15 years in one of these zones,” Flynn said.
The properties sectioned off as the proposed drug-free zone includes residential and commercial areas and is similar to a school zone or a public housing zone.
State law allows cities to create crime-specific zones such as this one, Haynie said.
Flynn said the ordinance could take more than a year to implement because if the City Council approves it, the Georgia Legislature would need to pass a bill creating it.