Lexington's Public Safety Committee approves changes in nuisance ordinance

bfortune@herald-leader.comFebruary 5, 2013 

A few changes in Lexington's public nuisance ordinance might have a substantial impact on reducing violent crime, officials said Tuesday.

The Urban County Council will consider expanding the public nuisance ordinance to give police the power to contact the owner of either residential or commercial property and inform them of criminal activity on the premises.

Can't police do that now? Not always.

Under the city's current law, police can contact the owner of residential property only — not commercial property — and only about gambling, prostitution or drug trafficking activities. Police have to be called three times in one year, and make an arrest, before an address is classified a public nuisance.

The proposed changes say the police can contact the property owner if they are called three times to any property — residential or commercial, including restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations, nightclubs and convenient stores — for any violent crime, including assaults, sexual offenses and weapons offenses.

"Having police make repeated calls to a location takes a tremendous amount of police resources," said councilwoman Peggy Henson, sponsor of the proposed changes.

In one year, police were called 455 times about a location in Council District 1, resulting in 35 arrests. A location in District 3 had 176 calls and 37 arrests.

Police Chief Ronnie Bastin declined to give the addresses or names of the businesses, but he said those locations would be covered if council approves the proposed changes.

"Landlords who have rental property may not know there are problems," said Leah Boggs, legislative aid to councilman Steve Kay, who worked with Henson on the public nuisance ordinance. "A lot of commercial property is owned by companies out of state. They have no idea what is going on, that an employee is dealing drugs under the counter."

If the nuisance does not abate after the owner has been notified three times, the owner can be fined between $500 and $5,000. That provision is in the existing ordinance.

However, police Lt. Michele Remark said she did not know of one instance when a landlord refused to cooperate and had to be fined. Most landlords are grateful when contacted by police and want to clean up the problem, she said.

Police are not out to see how many citations they can issue, Bastin said. "But we need incentives for folks who are not willing to do their part to alleviate a situation. That's what this is all about."

Council's Public Safety Committee approved the changes at its meeting Tuesday. The changes will go before the full council at its work session Tuesday.

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