Police Department cracks down on junk properties
EVERETT - Graffiti, junk cars, garbage-filled yards and tenants stuffed into houses: It’s all part of the work code enforcement unit supervisor Kevin Fagerstrom and his team of four handle on a daily basis with the Everett Police Department.
Fagerstrom started diligently cleaning up the city’s messiest properties when he arrived at the department five years ago.
His unit cracks down on more than 800 cases a year, and the number of open cases has been going down since a high of 1,176 in 2010.
Garbage-filled properties and foreclosed upon properties left unkempt are becoming the unit’s most popular calls for code enforcement.
Graffiti, a substantial problem two years ago, is on the decline, Fagerstrom said.
By the start of this month, the department had received only four calls this year to the Police Department’s 425-257-URIT graffiti removal hot line for homeowners. The hot line alerts police to places tagged with graffiti. The city then deploys a painter to clean it up. In years past, the hot line logged 200 calls.
The code enforcement unit is allowed to come onto properties to clean them up, but only after they find the owners to discuss their options.
More than half of the homeowners comply. Code enforcement is able to resolve 65 percent of its cases simply by having a conversation with property owners.
Another option the unit has is sending cases to the city’s code violations hearing examiner. If property owners don’t comply with the hearing examiner’s findings, Fagerstrom can send the cases to the city’s legal division, which can choose to initiate a court case in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Once rare, the city is now filing one court case a month, Fagerstrom said.
“These are cases where we can’t just say ‘pretty please’ on and expect action,” Fagerstrom said.
Most cases don’t go that far. More than half of the city’s code violations are resolved through a letter from the Police Department.
In 2008, the hearing examiner held 32 code violation hearings. In 2012, the hearing examiner held 256 such hearings, according to Police Department statistics.
Almost three-quarters of code complaints received by the city come from residents, and another quarter come from city staff.
Fagerstrom called the house at 929 Pecks Dr. one of the most egregious cases he’s handled this year, where a man started filling his yard with scrap garbage.
The owner wouldn’t clean up his yard, skipped on paying his fine and left the house a mess, Fagerstrom said.
While boarding it up, an officer accidentally got a whiff of the smell and it made him vomit, Fagerstrom said.
“It was absolutely disgusting,” Fagerstrom said.
The City Council earlier this month approved recovering $4,500 in associated costs for cleaning up the Pecks Drive site.
The biggest garbage-related case Fagerstrom worked on involved an otherwise nice house in the Boulevard Bluffs Neighborhood where a hoarder’s mess filled six commercial dumpsters worth of trash.
Houses that have been foreclosed upon represent the most challenging cases because it is difficult to track down out-of-state banks, he said previously.
All it takes is a phone call for a code investigation to start.
The Police Department’s code enforcement unit’s phone number is 435-257-8560 and its e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Code enforcement was moved from the planning department to the Police Department eight years ago.
Earlier this month, Fagerstrom gave the City Council an overview of code enforcement activity.
Strengthening the Police Department’s code enforcement unit a few years ago was one of the smartest things the council did, Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said after Fagerstrom’s May 1 presentation.
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