Tulsa’s code enforcement and police department have been working together to crack down on vacant and abandoned homes in the city that often attract high levels of crime.
Over the past three years, WIN (Working in Neighborhoods) and TPD have been strengthening their relationship to target homes that draw criminal activity to neighborhoods where folks are trying to raise families.
“This process with WIN has been fantastic,” Officer Chris Bender says.
Officer Bender has been on the police force for nearly eight years and has been working with WIN for a couple of years now.
“Most common problems we have with these properties is a lot of transients and vagrants hanging around which attracts low-level crime, low-level drug crime.”
The city has been issuing yellow notices known as placards on properties that are deemed too unsafe to live in.
“The main things we’re looking for are utility issues, unsafe conditions or unsanitary conditions,” Brant Pitchford with WIN says.
The placards issue a warning for those who are inside a home or property.
“What the placard does is give us enforcement action to take on these vacant and blighted properties,” Bender said.
Once the placards are in place it gives law enforcement the ability to issue a citation or make an arrest without them, the process is much more difficult. In order for a crime to be committed there needs to be a victim that victim is often an out of state homeowner or even a bank making the process much more difficult for police to take action.
“We’ve had great success with the enforcement action on these things with issuing citations for these code violations among other things. We’ve made arrests for outstanding felony warrants, high volume misdemeanor warrants and other arrests that have resulted in these investigations," said Bender
Police say that service calls in neighborhoods where placards have been issued have actually gone down. They say they will continue to visit a house that recently was issued a notice hard for several days sometimes even a couple of weeks.
“We see the burglaries, car burglaries, all those things go down as a result of hammering these houses hard for a couple of weeks straight,” said Bender.
Code enforcement wants to make it clear that the goal is to never demolish a home. The goal is that the property can be returned as a valuable home to the neighborhood.
“The goal is to put a taxpayer back in that house whether it be an owner or a renter so they can add value to this neighborhood and not be an empty lot,” Pitchford added.
He says the process also puts pressure on homeowners and banks to improve the condition of these homes or at last resort the city will have no choice to raise them. That pressure Pitchford says has expedited the process for many. The city says the foreclosure process can take up to two years but they have recent examples of that process taking only six weeks with the threat of demolishing a property.
“The residents are happier that they have a safe place for their kids to play. They’re not worried about needles in the street, they’re not worried about the vagrants and transients hanging around,” said Bender.
TPD and the city are asking for your help. If you see a yellow placard deeming a place unfit to live in and you see a person on that property or inside a home they want you to call 911 and a police officer will respond.