DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The men and women of the Code Enforcement Division in Daytona Beach - now part of the police department - realized and understood that the stereotypical image of Code Enforcement wasn't good.
They knew they had to stop only answering complaint calls and responding to problems, said Capt. Scott Lee, the division's leader.
Lee said since October, the division has started searching for problems, taking a proactive approach to tackling crime.
One day every month, the division does "code walks," where all 10 officers saturate a section of Daytona Beach to give individual neighborhoods attention they wouldn't normally get. Typically, one officer is assigned to -- and overwhelmed by -- one area.
Lee said he understands that some people might not want the attention of Code Enforcement, but in the neighborhoods his division is focusing on -- along the most troubled blocks in Volusia County -- he said his officers are welcome.
"We find that when there are houses rundown, not being taken care of, it becomes a spot of almost lawlessness, when people squat here and do whatever they want," Lee said.
Lee and his unit recently knocked down a house on North Street after it sat for three years with a tree crushing the roof from a hurricane. Squatters and drug users had moved in.
Tom Hill has lived next door for 20 years.
"I work (the) night shift. A couple times, I come out (at) 11:30 at night, somebody would run out the front porch and startle me," Hill said. "Before, I didn't feel comfortable because I didn't know if I fell asleep if someone would try and rob me. I don't have that concern anymore."
Hill said he worked alongside Code Enforcement for the past three years to get rid of the eyesore and the crime.
"You have to step up and fight for your neighborhood. I have no plans on leaving," Hill said.
Code Enforcement also solved the panhandling problem at the intersection of Ridgewood Avenue and International Speedway Boulevard, Lee said.
"This intersection was one of our main intersections impacted by panhandling," Lee said. "There was also a general perception by the panhandlers that the properties in the area didn't care what they did here."
So Lee asked the businesses on the four corners to show they do care by filling and painting the crumbling, cracking walls and installing new landscaping.
Code Enforcement also helped get the rehabilitation going of a derelict property at the corner of Mulberry Street and Pierce Avenue.
"Before" pictures show boarded-up windows, overgrown grass and bushes so thick that it was almost impossible to see the front door.
"This is a struggling area within the city. There are some sporadic problems. This was one that was a focal point," Lee said.
Code Enforcement officials worked with neighbors to clean up the property and encouraged someone to buy the home.
The home is now being renovated, and the overgrown shrubs and grass are gone.
"We won," Lee said. "This is a much better end to the story than a house being torn down, especially a house with so much characteristics, like this one."
Lee said the house was a prime example of why the Daytona Beach Police Department took Code Enforcement under its wing late last year.
Drug deals were occurring in the backyard, while there was neglect in the front, officials said.
"So it was becoming a Code Enforcement problem as well (as a crime problem). They intervened, they addressed the violations and that's what led the community (to) being able to get involved," Lee said.
Lee said having Code Enforcement officials work hand-in-hand with police officers makes for a bigger, faster impact in neighborhoods.
"People are happier to be in their neighborhood because crime is going down, but also because we're improving the other issues," Lee said. "We really don't want to fine anyone here. We don't want to see anyone lose their house or (have their) property (demolished)."
His division focuses on improving the quality of life for residents, not fines and liens, which are a last resort and sometimes necessary, Lee said.
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