Vicki Morgan knows very well the damage that Code Enforcement violations can cause for homes and businesses in a community.
The Westminster PD Code Enforcement manager recalls a rental home that was being used to grow cannabis illegally without the homeowner’s knowledge. It created numerous safety issues, including hazardous electrical wiring, and serious damage to the home.
“They’ll run tubing and wires through walls,” said Morgan. “I had a husband and wife, and she was down there crying because they destroyed her house.”
The responsibilities of Westminster PD’s Code Enforcement team extend far beyond citing homeowners for overgrown lawns or peeling paint. Their work is about keeping the community safe and offering assistance when needed. Since July 2012, Code Enforcement has been housed inside the WPD station (it was formerly in City Hall). These closer quarters have helped expand the team’s ability to serve the community.
“The police officers and the Code Enforcement, we each bring something to the table when we’re working as a team,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Code Enforcement worked with detectives on a special assignment involving visiting local massage establishments.
“There could be both criminal activity and civil,” said Morgan.
There are some common code violations the Code Enforcement officers were on the lookout for, including signage — only one neon sign allowed — appropriate dress attire and window tinting (not allowed). And a manager must always be on-duty.
“We need to be able to see in the lobby at all times,” she said. “So you cannot have any window coverage.”
But there is also the potential for crime, which is where the detectives were involved.
“Is there any elicit adult activity occurring — like prostitution, human trafficking?” Morgan said. “That’s what they’re going to address. We’re going to say, ‘Do you have doors?’”
Commander Cord Vandergrift said that there are many situations where officers or detectives will work in conjunction with Code Enforcement, including problem houses with substandard living conditions and illegal gambling search warrants.
“Not only will they get busted for illegal gambling, they’ll get cited for other types of corrections,” Vandergrift said.
Another instance the two teams work together is when the situation is risky for Code Enforcement officers.
“If we know that we may have an inspection that may be potentially dangerous, the police officers are always answering the call when Code Enforcement is inspecting,” said Morgan. “They’re there watching our backs, so to speak, to ensure our safety.”
And officers will call out Code Enforcement, too.
“There’s times that they’ll call us because they’ve been out to check the welfare on somebody and they find, ‘Uh-oh, it’s a hoarding situation,’ and they’ll refer it to me,” Morgan said.
She said the partnership between the teams helps the community in another way as well — by helping reduce blight conditions, which plays a role in the reduction of crime statistics.
“Having them in the same building makes it so much easier to coordinate with them,” said Vandergrift. “This allows us to tackle from both angles to better solve the problems.”
Code Enforcement is focused on proactive solutions as well, including a grant program to assist residents cited for violations who cannot afford to fix their homes.
In late 2019, a resident’s home was cited for several violations, including need for stucco repair, exterior repainting, landscaping maintenance and removal of discarded trash and debris.
“The occupant was elderly and on a fixed income,” said Morgan.
Code Enforcement officers referred the resident to their Grants and Housing Division as a possible candidate to qualify for a rehabilitation grant.
“After submitting the required application, the gentleman was approved for a $10,000 grant in September 2019,” Morgan said. “The grant covered the cost to correct all the violations, including repainting of the exterior of the residence.”
Another aspect of Code Enforcement is the Community Preservation Unit, based out of City Hall. This newer unit proactively goes out into the community to help clean up things like shopping carts and other forms of lower-level blight.
“A bunch of mattresses are thrown in the alley, they’ll go and clean that up,” said Vandergrift.
Morgan, who has worked for the agency since 1998, said things work very smoothly under one roof.
“It’s nice because you have that ability when you’re working together,” she said. “We’re going to handle this part of the case and you’re going to handle this part of the case. But we’re going to be working together.”