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Quality of life unit puts neighborhood on notice

LAWRENCEVILLE - Deborah Groom ran out of her house in her bare feet.

The Lawrenceville woman wanted to find out why police and camera crews looked on while her brother's classic Chevy truck was pulled onto a wrecker.

The antique was considered a "junk vehicle" because its tires had deflated and the tag registration had expired, so it became the first casualty of Friday's assault on blight in Jackson Township.

The Gwinnett County quality of life unit, a group of police and code enforcement officers intent on cleaning up the county's community, began a sweep of the Duluth Highway neighborhood, which is experiencing a rise in crime.

Sgt. David Spell said the two streets that were swept Friday had experienced five burglaries, had two cars stolen and numerous other battery and vandalism calls in the first nine months of this year.

"There's been a substantial increase in crime in the neighborhood," he said, although many of the houses have well-manicured lawns and fresh paint jobs. "We'd rather go ahead and hit it now and deal with it before it gets worse."

Groom teared up when talking to Spell about the truck. She said she just received notice about the registration, and her brother is out of the state.

While homeowners who had junk vehicles in their driveways received warnings, Spell said the truck was towed because it was on a public street.

"I can see how with the tires going flat that it looks like junk," she said. "But it's really unfair to him (her brother). I had no idea something was going on."

Another neighbor who came outside to talk to officers in her bare feet said she thought the process was fair.

Carol Brown received a warning for building materials in the backyard.

"If we need a little kick in the pants once in a while, it's good," she said.

Officials hope the enforcement of the property maintenance laws will help keep the rest of the crime out of the area.

Eighteen months ago, commissioners kicked off a task force to combat blight in the older neighborhoods of the county, most of which are in the southern parts.

Ron Seymour, president of the Jackson Township homeowners association, said he's seen a decline in the past four or five years.

"You want to nip the problem in the bud," he said. "This is fantastic. It'll raise property values and it'll tell people what they can and cannot do."

If property owners don't fix problems within an allotted period of time, police will issue tickets.

Since November 2005, the unit has made 7,163 contacts about violations; 2,898 citations were issued and 86 arrest warrants went out.