Lawrenceville readies own 'Broken Windows' effort

LAWRENCEVILLE - Lawrenceville Council members are beefing up the Police Department so it will have the manpower to clean up run-down neighborhoods.

The City Council voted to hire three new officers Monday night, freeing up three current cops to work on a task force that will target junked cars, tall grass and other code violations in targeted areas.

The stepped-up enforcement of city ordinances that govern the upkeep and use of private property is being patterned after a similar effort in the county, and it even has a common name: "Operation Broken Windows."

The county government's campaign, dubbed "Operation Fixing Broken Windows," has been successful at addressing blight in Norcross-area subdivisions.

Both are based on the premise that if petty crime and unkempt properties are allowed to persist, it will lead to more serious crimes and erode an area's quality of life, eventually strangling its economic vitality.

Stamping out the smaller problems, like fixing a broken window, will halt the slide, whereas if one broken window is left untended, it will lead to other broken windows and bigger problems.

Three Lawrenceville police officers are being trained to spot code infractions so they can warn property owners and issue citations if they fail to address the problem, be it a trash-strewn yard or home overcrowding.

The task force will tackle one neighborhood at a time. Up first will be homes around Ezzard Street, which is bordered by a trailer park and dwellings overseen by the Lawrenceville Housing Authority.

City officials have also said the Forest Place subdivision off Grayson Highway is high on the priority list.

Until now the city has only investigated code violations after receiving a citizens complaint. The task force will be proactive and go out looking for infractions.

"It's just unreal," Mayor Bobby Sikes said of the problems in some neighborhoods. "We don't have to live that way here and we're not going to. We're going to do something about it."

The cost of the three new police positions was not immediately available Monday.

Officials have said residents in a subdivision will be notified that the city intends to look for code violations, and they will be given the chance to address them beforehand.

That will include the city hauling Dumpsters into the neighborhood so residents can discard trash, and junked cars will be towed away free-of-charge by a private company.

A day or two after that, the city will go through the neighborhood looking for code violations and will cite any violators, officials said.

The effort should ramp up in coming weeks and be in full swing by January, Sikes said.

The officers will also keep an eye out for crime as they go door to door, said Councilman Rick Johnson. He said the county found that some troublemakers moved out before the police returned for a follow-up visit.

"If they know a police officer is going to be on foot and will be back in three days, they'll clean it up," Johnson said.