LAWRENCEVILLE - In three months, a Gwinnett County operation has cleaned up nearly 1,500 businesses and residences in western and southern parts of the county.
The 120-day blitz for Operation Fixing Broken Windows, a community revitalization program, ends today. But officials are pledging to continue the effort beyond the summer.
"Our efforts were to reach out to areas that needed attention," said Chairman Charles Bannister, who fulfilled a campaign promise by bringing help to Gwinnett's declining areas. "If it was 50 percent successful, we'd be far better off. The longer we work on it, the better it'll get."
Based on the book "Fixing Broken Windows" by George Kelling, the operation focused on issues such as unmowed lawns, graffiti, illegal signs and litter in order to get at the root of the county's emerging crime problem.
Operation coordinator Steve North said the effort was successful because most business owners and citizens readily complied with the efforts to clean up.
Of the 1,464 contacts police and code enforcement officers made in the target areas, only 255 citations were issued for failing to comply. Only 101 of the properties still have problems, and that is mostly in the neighborhoods that police recently began working, he said.
For the initial phase, the officers worked in the Jimmy Carter Boulevard area, the Gwinnett Place Mall area and the U.S. Highway 78 corridor, where business owners had already banded together to improve the community.
"I was told Jimmy Carter hand't had a thorough cleaning for about 31⁄2 years," said BJ Van Gundy, director of the Southwest Gwinnett Village Community Improvement Association staged at Jimmy Carter. The effort is "getting residential pride going. That's exciting stuff."
Now, the operation will be countywide, North said, adding that the police already have a list of potential neighborhoods to target.
Police Chief Charlie Walters set up a six-person quality-of-life unit that begins work on Saturday. Three of the nine officers who have worked on code enforcement, graffiti, signs, litter and other aesthetic issues for the past three months have been assigned to the new unit.
"I'm a firm believer in this," Walters said when announcing the unit. "If you make your neighborhood a place that is not desirable to criminals to live in, it will improve."
So far, crime statistics don't show the improvement, North said, but in three of the subdivisions where police focused, neighbors are beginning community-oriented policing programs.
"We've seen fresh paint jobs. We've seen lawns get cut. We've seen kids playing in the yard. That's happened in six weeks," Marc Sanders of the Dove Trace community said last month. "Imagine what we can do in six months. Imagine what your property values will be in a year. It's in our grasp."