Code sweep targets quality of life violators

NORCROSS - When a code enforcement officer came to the door, much of Minerva Goicochea's household came out to greet them.

As the matriarch talked to Derek Aycart in Spanish, children played on swings in the neatly cut front yard.

But Aycart told the woman the little yard contained several code violations.

The trash was spilling onto the curb in bags, plastic chairs and flooring tiles were stacked in various locations and a home-made carport posed a safety threat.

"I understand. That's a good thing," said Maria Goicochea, who has lived in the house with her mother for 12 years. "We have to have our yard clean."

Police and code enforcement officers walked through the Goicocheas' neighborhood on Ballard Way and through another next to it off Mitchell Road Wednesday as part of a spring sweep for the county's new quality of life unit.

Sending out officers that morning, Sgt. David Spell looked at a map of the neighborhood. But instead of houses, the map was marked with skulls, cars and other symbols of the crime detected in the area within the past year.

The intention of the operation, Spell explained, is to show the neighbors that the county cares about the small issues such as unmown grass and graffiti to inspire them to improve the community further.

The increased police presence, he said, could also encourage the criminals to move out.

"It's about time," said Joanna Harris, a 20-year-old who has lived in the neighborhood since she was 2. Her house has been tagged by graffiti, she said. "For the most part I feel safe here, but my boyfriend says I should carry my pepper spray."

Gwinnett leaders said Wednesday's "spring sweep" signified that Operation Fixing Broken Windows, a code enforcement blitz that began last year, is being implemented countywide.

"The people of Gwinnett County care. They're willing to fight for our community," District 1 Commissioner Lorraine Green said. "We have given people hope. The results have been incredible."

While many of the residents weren't home on Wednesday morning, officers took digital photos and made notes on violations. They left information on the initiative in both English and Spanish. Residents have two weeks to fix the problems or they will face a fine.

"By simply enforcing the laws that are already on the books, we're making good progress in revitalizing older areas of the county," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "This effort helps provide safe, clean, attractive neighborhoods for our residents."

Wednesday's event was also the first deployment of Gwinnett County Police Department's new mobile command center, purchased with a $750,000 homeland security grant.

Maj. Tom Savage, who has worked on bringing the apparatus to the county for three years, said the 41-foot vehicle acted as a command post for this operation, but its main function is as a 911 dispatch center if the one at police headquarters is ever inoperable.

The center is outfitted with five kinds of phone service, plus several radio options, satellite data terminals and television and Internet capabilities. A camera is mounted on the roof that can be zoomed to focus on SWAT or other police operations.

"It has all kinds of video capability for commanders to see what's going on in real time and make good decisions," Savage said.