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Gang homes put on notice via adoption of new city law

After much consideration and hearing from Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder last night about two proposed ordinances, the Sunnyside City Council adopted one new law, but elected to wait until Monday, Aug. 23, to further consider the other.

Radder told council chronic nuisance homes need to be dealt with, some at a criminal level. The chronic nuisance ordinance was approved.

The other ordinance the chief of police hoped to have in place to further help with gang problems in the city was the juvenile curfew.

The juvenile curfew was the subject of much debate.

City Councilwoman Theresa Hancock told Radder she feels it is in the city's best interest to have the "empirical data" backing up the time frame proposed in the ordinance.

The ordinance would give police the right to cite juveniles for being away from home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. without a legitimate reason.

Radder apologized to the council, stating he has the data, but did not bring it with him.

"Most juvenile crime takes place during the latchkey hours," admitted Radder, stating many misdemeanor crimes take place after juveniles arrive home from school.

However, he told council, the majority of major crimes committed by juveniles take place after 10 p.m. Those crimes include drive-by shootings.

"There is a spike at 10 p.m.," said Radder.

"This ordinance says mom and dad can give the child permission to be out, but if mom and dad don't want the child out, police can pre-empt criminal activity," he continued.

"Parents are empowered by this law," Radder said.

Councilman Nick Paulakis told Radder he likes the law and feels it is proactive.

"There have been shootings near my place that occurred after 10 p.m.," he said.

Councilman Pablo Garcia was afraid the juvenile curfew ordinance automatically targets anyone under the age of 18 as a potential criminal. He did, however, say he would back the ordinance if the data could be provided to him regarding juvenile crimes after 10 p.m.

Radder told council he modeled the ordinance from another city's ordinance. That ordinance has in place a curfew beginning at midnight, but he told council Sunnyside's problems begin at 10 p.m.

"I believe there will be homes with the ordinance laminated by the door and parents can say, 'Excuse me junior, but I think you should read this'," Radder said, explaining the ordinance is something he believes parents will find useful in raising their children.

During the public hearing held last night Vicki Escobar, a resident living in the North 14th Street area, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

She said her neighborhood was twice affected by drive-by shootings this summer. In one of those instances, her parents' home was struck by a bullet while they slept.

Both incidents, Escobar reminded council, occurred after 10 p.m.

"I realize juveniles may not like the curfew, but there are those who ruin it for everyone else," she said, stating she raised her children in Sunnyside and she understands how juveniles might feel about an ordinance like the one proposed last night.

"You know when a group of juveniles are walking up and down a street after 10 p.m. they are up to no good. I believe the ordinance is a start...we have to take control," Escobar said.

After more discussion among the council members, all agreed Radder would need to provide the data supporting the ordinance at the Aug. 23 meeting before council would take a vote.

Police were, however, given an additional tool for dealing with gang homes, called "bases of operation" by Radder.

"The chronic nuisance ordinance deals with that house everyone knows about," said Radder.

To be deemed a chronic nuisance property, a property owner must have had three or more nuisance activities within a 180-day time span.

The property owner would be notified and cited, being provided the opportunity to remedy the problems noted by enforcement officers.

Chronic nuisance activities include dangerous buildings, weed problems, harassment offenses, assault or reckless endangerment, littering, drug offenses, firearms violations and public disturbances, as well as other offenses for which police have had reason to cite a homeowner or individuals living in the residence.

"I believe taking care of the quality of life factors will head off further criminal behavior," said Radder.

Garcia questioned what he believed were broad definitions listed in the ordinance, asking if a property owner who is elderly might become a target of the ordinance.

"I would hope steps are in place, including an individual investigation and review, that would prevent an individual from falling under the ordinance," said Radder, noting an officer investigating a chronic nuisance property would have to file a report and document violations under the law.

Further, Radder himself would review all documentation presented to him by either his officers or the code enforcement officers investigating the property.

"If an elderly person falls under the ordinance it would be an egregious situation," said Radder, stating circumstances such as an elderly person unable to care for their property is a consideration.

City Planner Jamey Ayling spoke to the issue, stating there are community groups and volunteers willing to step in and help an individual in such situations. Therefore, it is his belief that an elderly person would not have reason to worry.

Radder continued, stating, "There are many checks and balances in place."

Hancock, concerned about possible neighbor disputes getting out of hand, wanted the chief of police to help her understand how the ordinance would apply in such cases.

Radder told council the investigations would help authorities determine if a "feud" was indeed the problem.

Vicki Escobar again spoke up about the ordinance, stating she is in favor of such a law. She said there is a particular property that has been a concern of neighbors that this ordinance would apply to.

"Windows have been broken and they constantly miss garbage day...it is getting better because the neighbors have put pressure on the property," she said.

Radder told council properties like the one Escobar referenced have been a concern for both his department and code enforcement officers. Some property owners have been uncooperative with code enforcement officers and the new law would enable police officers to step in for criminal violations.

With a couple of minor changes to the proposed ordinance, council unanimously approved the new ordinance.

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