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Narcotics Abatement Law

March 28, 1993

In your editorial "And Whose Job Is It?" (March 18), you take issue with the narcotics abatement action I filed against the owners of a Van Nuys mini-mall and a business owner in the mall.

The narcotics abatement law is used not to shift the burden of ensuring public safety, but is invoked in recognition of the reality that law enforcement efforts alone cannot guarantee public safety. As long as 76 years ago, a court acknowledged that the criminal justice system's authority was limited to the imposition of criminal penalties and that sole use of this remedy would not result in a speedy and effectual abatement of a nuisance. In that 1917 case, People vs. Barbicre, the state appeals court understood the fact that while the police could make numerous arrests (and the LAPD made 126 arrests in one year at the Van Nuys mini-mall), they do not have the resources or authority to make improvements such as enhancing lighting and installing fencing.

My use of the narcotics abatement law is not in conflict with the limitations suggested in your editorial. It already is being used sparingly--less than 20 times in eight years--while we have been involved in hundreds of successful self-abatements where we work with responsible property owners who help police combat narcotics activity.

I limit abatement lawsuits to those situations where informal self-abatement efforts fail due to uncooperative property owners. Such a self-abatement effort was attempted in the case of the Van Nuys mini-mall. A meeting was held with the property owner and business owners in April, 1992, in an effort to work out cooperative measures to eliminate the drug activity. The abatement lawsuit was filed in February only because agreed-upon measures were not implemented and blatant narcotics activity continued despite sustained police enforcement efforts.

We use the abatement law only in situations where owners, in effect, ignore the presence of drug trafficking and fail to take reasonable steps to curb the activity. Neglect, whether benign or willful, has the same end result. In today's Los Angeles, public safety can be assured only if police, prosecutors and the public work together and accept their individual responsibilities.

Responsible prosecution is not limited to the filing of criminal cases. My office has rejected such a one-dimensional approach and has pioneered innovative measures, such as creation of the FALCON program (a multi-agency approach to combatting drug-trafficking), gang abatement lawsuits and a trespass ordinance to give owners the ability to exclude gang members and drug dealers from their property.

JAMES K. HAHN

City Attorney

Los Angeles

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