Would require police chief to initiate, judge to impose any penalties on property owners

The City of Prineville is considering a new ordinance that would help police better deal with a property that has become a chronic source of illegal activity.

Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins presented an ordinance to city councilors Tuesday night that would address "chronic nuisance properties" and provide a way to hold residents or owners accountable.

Cummins began by stressing that development of the ordinance is not in response to a current problem, nor is it targeting any particular property or person.

"It is my experience from working in law enforcement for a long period of time that we need to look for solutions that are more long-term than responding to certain homes time and time again and not coming to a resolution," he explained. "This is an answer to that."

The police chief stressed that the ordinance is intended for properties where police continually deal with criminal activity. As an example, he told the story of a residence in Gresham where a young man had moved in and held frequent parties. Police had to go to the residence on a regular basis and make disorderly conduct arrests, address noise and excess trash complaints and deal with drug needles on the property.

"These aren't calls just for service," Cummins went on to clarify. "If you neighbor calls on you and for some reason we got out there and no crime has been committed, that doesn't count against you as far as this ordinance is concerned."

Cummins went on to explain that the initiating enforcement of the ordinance differs from others. First of all, the police chief is the only member of the agency who can take action.

"I have to review it and make a decision that it is worth proceeding," he said. "I am then going to go to the city attorney and sit down together and see if I have a preponderance of evidence that this is a chronic nuisance property."

Finally, Cummins stressed that neither he nor anyone else in the agency can decide on a penalty.

"It has to go before a judge who decides the appropriate abatement based on the totality of circumstances," Cummins said, noting that penalties could include a lien on the property, a fine or restricting access to the property for up to 180 days.

The ordinance is intended to provide an avenue to respond to a chronic nuisance property when other options to remedy the problem have been exhausted.

"The first thing I would do is reach out to that property owner and see if they could sit down with me and talk about solutions to the problems," he said. "That often solves the issue."

If those efforts fail, that is when he said he would initiate the ordinance.

Cummins went on to point out that the ordinance is not something the Prineville agency invented.

"There are a lot of cities in the state of Oregon that already have this ordinance on the books, including Bend, which has had it since 2010," he said.

The Prineville City Council unanimously passed the ordinance for a first time Tuesday evening. It will come before the council when it meets again on July 24 for a second approval. If it is approved at that session, it will become law.

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