POMONA — Police are using a new--and relatively peaceful--weapon in their war against drugs and gangs.
After responding to complaints of drug and gang activity at a northeast Pomona home 61 times in the first six months of the year, the occupants of the home were evicted recently and the house was boarded up.
Police Chief Richard Tefank said the action marks the first successful use of a nuisance-abatement ordinance adopted by the City Council in May to deal with drug and gang problems.
Speeds Up Process
The ordinance authorizes the police chief to declare a nuisance based on criminal gang activity, drug sales, prostitution or other crimes, and to order houses, apartments and commercial buildings vacated for up to a year. Owners have 15 days to file an appeal.
City Atty. Patrick Sampson said Pomona's approach speeds up a process that other cities are using. He said that state law enables cities to go to court to close buildings where drug and gang activity takes place but that the procedure can take several months.
In Pomona, the police chief's order can be appealed to a city hearing officer. If the hearing officer affirms the chief's order, the property owner can challenge it in court. But if no appeal is filed, the order becomes effective immediately.
Lt. Chuck Heilman, head of the detective division, said the ordinance has been used twice since it was approved in May. One owner appealed the order, and the other one went along with it.
Drugs on Property
The female owner of the house that was shut down was living with relatives who were involved in drugs, Heilman said. He said undercover police bought drugs on the property, and there were gang shootings in front of the house.
Since the residents moved last month, "the neighborhood has been real quiet," Heilman said.
The other building that Tefank ordered closed is a duplex in the southern part of the city where police said gang members congregate. Police responded 56 times to neighborhood residents' complaints about the house in the first half of the year.
The owners of the duplex have appealed Tefank's order. Sampson, acting as hearing officer, took testimony last week. He could order the duplex boarded up for a year or allow the owners to continue to occupy the building by meeting certain conditions, such as keeping the property free of graffiti.
The new ordinance allows police, by using computer records, to easily document where problems exist and impose punishment swiftly. The potential loss of a house's use for a year should get the owners' attention, and hopefully, their cooperation, he said.
"For the first time, we can almost put a house on probation," Heilman said.
Tefank said police are reviewing crime complaints at two other houses to determine if they should be boarded up.