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Quality of life unit disbands
11 officers reassigned; 13 remain for code laws

LAWRENCEVILLE - Police officers will no longer combat quality of life crimes in Gwinnett.

Although commissioners voted to save the Police Department's quality of life unit from budget cuts earlier this year, the unit has been renamed and nine police officers and two sergeants have been reassigned.

But remaining on the streets are 13 code enforcement officers who were transferred from the planning and development department when the unit was created in a revitalization campaign in 2005.

"They are still a quality of life unit enforcing the law," Chairman Charles Bannister said of the newly renamed code enforcement unit. "We still have our code enforcement. The group has been modified as the budget cuts made necessary. ... We'll have to do the best job we can with what we have to deal with."

Since the 2005 Operation Fixing Broken Windows campaign, the code enforcement officers have been helped in their efforts to clean up county neighborhoods and business parks, including ticketing people who don't mow their lawns, leave junk vehicles in the yard and trash strewn about, graffiti and other misdemeanors.

Police officers said they often found out about more serious crimes such as drug dealing while working in the neighborhoods, and they deterred burglaries and car thefts.

But a budget crisis left the county searching for $40 million earlier this year. On the table were the disbanding of the county police's DUI, park police, crime prevention and quality of life units.

Commissioners voted to spare the quality of life unit.

But Bannister said the unit was reduced, as dozens of police officers took retirement incentives, along with other personnel, to reduce the county payroll.

In addition to reassigning the police officers, officials also stopped paying rent in the unit's office in the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

"As the county as a whole emerges from this period of belt tightening, the feasibility of a quality of life unit will be reexamined," Police Officer Senior Brian Kelly, a department spokesman, said.