Some Delaware lawmakers, and Attorney General Beau Biden, want to give more power to prosecutors, police and neighborhood groups in dealing with properties that become the centers of criminal activity.
“It’s a travesty when a little boy or a little girl can’t play outside because they’re being ‘held hostage’ by someone who’s decided to set up shop in their neighborhood,” said Reverend Ty Johnson, President of the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council.
The existing Nuisance Abatement Program was passed in 2007 and has been used to rehabilitate more than 140 properties. Owners are notified of drug and vice crimes that take place on the site, often on rental properties, and are given the opportunity to clean up the illegal activity or face court action.
Under Senate Bill 65, gun crimes and gang activity would be added to drug offenses that currently fall under the Nuisance Abatement Program statute. Civil penalties would also be increased, and courts would be able to take into account such factors as increased calls to police, declining property values, and fears that residents may have of being outside in public places.
Civic associations, neighborhood planning councils and other community groups would also be able to take legal action, with the support of the Justice Department.
“What we find is, people feel empowered as a result, because they’re part of the solution,” Biden said.
Senator Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), Representative J.J. Johnson (D-Wilmington) and Representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) are sponsoring the legislation.
“The changes we’re proposing here will both clear up some questions about how the law is applied and will give us a more effective tool to help us as we work to protect and rebuild our neighborhoods,” Blevins said.
Under the existing statute, the AG’s office has rehabilitated more than 140 properties. Another 400 were placed on a “watch list.”