The Journal Gazette
Monday, February 10, 2020 1:00 am

Tranquil neighborhoods

Ordinance addresses rare nuisance issues

Thomas Freistroffer

Matthew 22:39 states: “...Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” This is a tenet most people live by – being kind to those around them as they would their own family and expecting the same in return. In Fort Wayne, generally, this is the case. We help one another and treat each other with kindness and respect.

Then there are folks in Fort Wayne who do illegal things in their homes. They are selling drugs or other outlawed materials; they're hosting underage parties; they're making unreasonable noise late into the night; and they're taking part in many other activities that affect the quality of life for the rest of the neighborhood.

The easy answer is to say, “We will call the police on them and they'll go to jail!” The reality is that our legal system is overburdened and underfunded. The odds of someone going to jail on an offense like this are very small and, if they did, it would most likely be after many delays, meaning the neighbors are living next to this activity for the entire time.

The residents who are participating in this behavior – selling drugs, facilitating illegal operations,  contributing to crime – need to be addressed. Fort Wayne already has a landlord-tenant nuisance ordinance, but what about owner-occupied homes, disorderly homes that are causing problems? For the residents who live next to these homes, this is urgent.

An ordinance I have co-sponsored to address this issue is modeled on a similar ordinance in South Bend. As per a phone call to the police officer in South Bend who delegates authority regarding a similar ordinance, homeowners are more apt to pay fines and abate the nuisance than most tenants. A neighbor who owns property without a lease will often display pride of ownership and personal responsibility that will accelerate the abatement process relating to fines. South Bend has solid success with its owner-occupied nuisance ordinance.

Both ordinance sponsor Tom Didier and co-sponsor Geoff Paddock, along with the other district councilmen and women, have in their districts many of these owner-occupied homes. With repeated calls from constituents regarding this issue, it's time to act! Citizens' voices need to be heard when there is a home next to them that is regularly engaging in nuisance activity. The wait for the criminal justice system is untenable when it's every day of your life.

The process involved in this ordinance allows, after police investigation, for a citation to be issued. The person who received the citation would go to Traffic and Misdemeanor Court, and a judge would determine the merit of the citation and possibly assess a fine. The police would not be assessing fines and would not be arresting people under this ordinance, but it would allow a judge to place a monetary value on the disturbance they are causing to their neighbors.

This ordinance isn't designed to be punitive; it's designed to foster compliance with basic neighborhood behaviors.

The goal is the betterment of the community and neighborhoods. We have amended the proposal to allow an exemption for victims or potential victims of crimes, including domestic matters. It will be up to the police department to use discretion in these cases. It would be rare, if ever, that this ordinance would be utilized by someone inside the house calling for help.

We are lucky to have a police force that will try to connect victim complaints out of the purview of this ordinance and direct them to the proper social agency of concern.

Capt. Kevin Hunter would oversee the administration of this ordinance. He believes it will work and is in favor of it. He said, “This should only affect a small number of homeowner-occupied homes. We don't run into this with a large amount of homes. We need to be very judicious in how we apply this ordinance.”

I believe in the safety of our neighborhoods. We, as elected leaders, need to keep them strong.

By providing the proper law enforcement tools, along with listening to neighbors' concerns, we can make our neighborhoods safe and quiet havens.

If other council members feel the same way, they will stand with me in supporting our neighborhoods and the disorderly houses ordinance. 

Thomas Freistroffer is an at-large member of Fort Wayne City Council.

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