• Center for Problem oriented policing

POP Center Responses Using Civil Actions Against Property Appendix C

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Appendix C: Applying Property-Related Civil Remedies to Drug Crime in Public and Private Housing

This section of the guide provides brief summaries (see Table C1) of initiatives in which police or third parties used civil remedies to target property where drug crime was suspected or known to be taking place. These places can be located in residential, industrial, or commercial areas and can include the following:

• Common areas located within public housing estates
• Commercial venues
• Privately owned property (owner occupied or rented)
• Abandoned buildings, which may or may not still have an owner

Most of the evaluations discussed here, however, involve either public or private housing. One of the problems identified is some form of drug crime. Many of the more recent studies used a problem-oriented policing approach. The limited number of rigorous evaluations of initiatives involving multi-agency responses and third parties in dealing with crime and disorder issues, including drug crimes, has been raised by a number of authors.87

Table C1. Summary of Programs and Initiatives Using Civil Remedies in Response to Drug Crime in Public and Private Housing 

Program & Place

Statute/Code Used

Specific Problems &



Works Best …

Code Enforcement

Center Court Project (Joliet Police Department 1996)


Place: City of Joliet, Illinois

Building code and health and safety regulations

  • Police reviewed calls for service in a high crime and disorder area. Over 50% of calls came from two apartment buildings.
  • Four rival gangs living there were responsible for the more serious incidents, including drug dealing and violence.
  • Previous enforcement had involved crime reports and arrests.
  • Police suggested to owner and manager ways to reduce crime and disorder. All suggestions were ignored, despite promises to rectify.
  • Inspectors found over 100 violations and issued orders for the owner to fix the problems.
  • After 90 days, the owner failed to take action.
  • Inspection process was repeated.
  • A third inspection yielded 37 pages of violations.
  • City ordered owner to close both buildings.
  • Owner sold the properties and residents were temporarily relocated.
  • New owners renovated the interior and exterior of the buildings, fenced and landscaped the property, established security procedures, and reopened the buildings. (Cost $1,000,000)
  • All former residents relocated, but were free to re-apply for leases at the renovated apartments.
  • The community was happy.
  • If police work with residents to assist them with making temporary arrangements for relocation while repairs are underway

Reducing Crime and Disorder at Motels and Hotels (Chula Vista Police Department 2009)


Place: Chula Vista, California

Permit ordinance was developed to deal with problem motels. Motels were required to get a city permit to operate, which was given if certain standards were met.

  • Business organizations asked the city for help in dealing with quality and safety issues in a large number of Chula Vista’s motels.
  • Despite increased police enforcement, problems persisted.
  • Police collaborated with other city staff and business groups and developed a POP project.
  • Project team identified the problem as managers and owners choosing not to deal with the issues in their premises.
  • First responses: (1) Police Code Enforcement and the Chamber of Commerce worked together to educate motel owners and managers how best to manage their properties to control crime; and (2) Code Enforcement staff instituted annual inspection program.
  • These had little effect on motel conditions.
  • Police, the city Attorney’s Office, and the city’s Planning and Building, Community Development, Finance and Fire Departments developed an ordinance that enabled the city to hold motels accountable for meeting calls-for-service criteria that were based on public safety performance standards.
  • Calls for service to Chula Vista motels declined by 49%; Violent crimes and crimes against persons fell by 49%; Part I and Part II crimes declined by 70%; Drug arrests decreased by 66%.
  • The quality and appearance of several motels improved dramatically.
  • Motel management practices improved.
  • The number of motel rooms that did not meet basic safety standards declined from at least 378 to 0.
  • Aggregate transient occupancy tax reported to the city increased.
  • Only 2 of the 24 motels requesting operating permits did not clearly meet the required standard.
  • If police work with other city staff and business groups to develop appropriate standards and methods to regulate motel conditions

Nuisance Abatement

Leadership role:

Seattle Police Department

(Ferguson and Fitzsimons 1990)


Place: Seattle, Washington

Drug Abatement Statute (passed in 1988), popularly known as the Expedited Eviction Law

  • Drug (“rock”) houses were identified.
  • Drug abatement remedy was used that included evictions.
  • In two-year period, 625 abatement actions were filed on “rock” houses.
  • Only 87 of these resulted in action beyond owner- resolution agreements.
  • Nineteen abatement actions were filed in court, resulting in full property closure at 13 locations.
  • In 38 of the cases, some agreement was eventually reached with the owner, including 7 voluntary closures.
  • Almost 90% of drug activity at the targeted premises was resolved.
  • Despite a displacement effect, the outcome was considered effective in destabilizing the crack cocaine sellers.
  • If the occupier is not the owner. This is because owner-resolution agreements are difficult to obtain with owner-occupied dwellings if there is a high probability of proceeding to a closure of the property.


SMART (Specialized Multi-Agency Response Teams) Program

(Green 1996) & (Mazerolle et al. 1998)


Place: Oakland, California

Section 11570 of the California Health and Safety Code, which defines the use of a building for drug purposes as a nuisance.


  • Coordinated inspections by building, utility, and health and safety agencies.
  • Infringements were identified.
  • Letter was sent to property owner.
  • Team worked with landlords to evict tenants suspected of drug crime.
  • After one year the number of calls for service rose at a lower rate at the targeted properties.
  • Effects were not sustained after this period.
  • When traditional enforcement strategies were employed in combination with alternative civil law strategies
  • At highly visible business premises, owners may have the most to lose by not cooperating

6100 Block of Charlotte Avenue Project (Kansas City Police Department 1995).


Place: Kansas City, Missouri

Drug abatement action; civil nuisance lawsuit

  • Police identified a problem property owned by a vulnerable elderly man. Teenagers stayed at his house. Large number of calls for service on the block.
  • Block was targeted as a POP project.
  • Police organized the people in the block and instructed them on how to detect suspicious activity and keep a log.
  • Police gave residents a business card with pager numbers and explained they could contact officers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Block residents made use of this and provided important information to police on an ongoing basis.
  • Police contacted Missouri Department of Aging, but caseworker found owner was not sufficiently incompetent to be removed. Owner refused suggested alternatives.
  • Police officers contacted Jackson County Drug Abatement Response Team (DART) who visited the owner and explained about the drugs recovered from the teenagers staying in his house. Owner remained unconvinced.
  • Following another arrest for drug possession (after a tip off from a local resident), house was vacated and posted as uninhabitable—having over 30 code violations.
  • Residents filed civil nuisance lawsuit to deny owner option to move back into his property.
  • Police met with owner and explained his available options.
  • Owner decided to sell the house.
  • House bought by a new owner-occupier within one day.
  • Neighbors and police worked with new owner to fix the exterior of the house.
  • Training session was held for residents on crime prevention and home security.
  • Enforcement activities were carried out and burglars arrested.
  • Property crimes on the block decreased by 60%.
  • Police officers involved in resolving the problems on the block are rewarded by residents with a special dinner and award.
  • One of the residents received an award from the police and City Council.
  • Quality of life for all residents improved.
  • Good working partnership is built between police and neighborhood residents
  • Residents are trained by the police to assist them

Leadership role: Drug abatement response teams (DART)

(Eck 1998)


Place: San Diego, California

Abatement legislation

  • Drug abatement program, involving eviction of tenants in premises involved in drug dealing.
  • Several different techniques were used to inform landowners about the crime problems and the responses to be used.
  • Experiment involved 121 private rental properties.[meh1] 
  • Most effective response: where police met directly with landowners to discuss the drug crime on their property (and the eviction of the drug dealer).
  • Second most effective response: where a letter was sent to landowner requesting them to take measures to deal with the drug dealing on their property.
  • Least effective response: no police contact with the property owner at all.
  • When police contact owners directly about the crime problem

The Question of Independent Living

(San Diego Police Department 2000)


Place: San Diego, California

Notice of potential use of abatement; Notice of potential use of civil lawsuit under Safe Street Now Act; and Eviction

  • Police saw a rapid rise in calls for service at an apartment complex that had been converted from single-family apartments to an independent living facility for people with mental disabilities.
  • Police found that the manager was a convicted felon with an extensive drug history.
  • Police found that independent living facilities came under strict government guidelines, but these were being violated. By California standards, the apartment complex should have been classified as a board and care/group home with definite license provisions.
  • However, State Community Care Licensing was only interested if there was evidence that the residents were incapable of independent living. Crime and health were considered a local matter for the city.
  • After meeting with police, leaseholder agreed to fire the manager, but instead gave him control of all the resident’s medications.
  • Police approached the owner who indicated that it was not his problem.
  • Neighbors notified the leaseholder of a potential civil lawsuit.
  • State Community Care intervened and found numerous regulatory violations.
  • Police notified the owner of a potential abatement process that could lead to forfeiture of the property.
  • The owner evicted all residents and sold the property.
  • Calls for service in the neighborhood nearly ceased—from a high of 23 per month to a low of 2 per month.
  • If police form a partnership with government agencies and members of the community
  • If police explore all avenues and are tenacious in solving the cause of the problem

Municipal Drug Engagement Program (MDGE) pilot program, an “experimental supplement” to the existing Strategic Inspections Task Force (SITF) program

(Higgins and Coldren 2000)


Place: Chicago, Illinois

Modified municipal nuisance abatement ordinance allowing the city to hold landlords accountable for some of the criminal activities of their tenants

  • Department of Buildings inspected buildings (with documented drug and gang problems) for safety and code violations.
  • Multi-staged response by the city that included: (1) discussions with the property owner (2) issuance of an abatement notice (to the owner) requiring that action be taken to address the issue (3) if no action was taken, a notice to appear in court was to be issued (4) the case was referred to city attorneys for prosecution
  • While the program had a significant impact on levels of criminal activity over a 28-month period, the evaluation was limited and researchers cautioned about making sweeping statements about its success.
  • Field attorneys are involved in the process

Repairing Neighborhoods with Partnerships (Joliet Police Department 2000)


Place: City of Joliet, Illinois

Licensing and abatement used to improve rental property management and maintenance; Eviction used

  • Neighborhoods with nuisance and drug and weapons problems were identified.
  • Police tried to win cooperation of landlords. Few landlords cooperated.
  • Police found that other city departments were also frustrated in their efforts.
  • Police developed a formal abatement process for dealing with drug, weapon, and nuisance complaints.
  • Police learned of a city rental inspection ordinance that required property owners of two or more rental units to pass a maintenance inspection and to maintain a rental inspection certificate for each property. Certificate had to be renewed every two years
  • At police request, city council passed an ordinance requiring landlords to cooperate with police once they were notified that their property was involved in criminal activity.
  • If landlords failed to cooperate, they could be forced to vacate their property.
  • After some success in closing problem property and in gaining the cooperation of landlords, residents became more comfortable cooperating with police, even in gang neighborhoods.
  • Number of calls for service was reduced (between 31 and 62 percent in abatement properties) and the neighborhood quality of life increased.


  • If representatives of neighborhood services (community) and of fire, zoning, and legal departments all participate
  • If police teach landlords to identify problem tenants, to screen prospective tenants, to enforce illegal drug clauses in leases, and to evict problem tenants


The Oakland Airport Motel Program (Oakland Police Department, Beat Health Unit 2003)


Place: Oakland, California

Drug Nuisance Abatement, as provided by Section 11570 of the California Health and Safety Code

  • Recurring nuisance and criminal activity, including drug activity, was identified at a major motel, which was part of an international chain.
  • Police undertook data checks, site visits, interviews, undercover surveillance, and comparisons of management practices to other nearby motels.
  • Police concluded that it was poor management practices at the motel that allowed crime and nuisances to flourish at this motel.
  • Meetings with on-site motel managers and corporate executives failed to result in improvements at the motel.
  • Police and city attorneys filed a drug nuisance abatement lawsuit against the parent corporation.
  • The police notified the chief financial officer of the bank that held the financial note on the motel.
  • Police engaged in negotiations with the parent corporation.
  • Parent corporation agreed to improve its management practices and to post a $250,000 performance bond covering a two-year monitoring period to guarantee reductions in crime and nuisance at the motel.
  • Parent corporation agreed to pay the City of Oakland about $35,000 to cover the costs of its investigation.
  • Numerous specific improvements were made to the physical environment and management practices at the motel.
  • Two years after the agreement there were few calls for police service at the motel and the property had been returned to productive use.


  • If police gather irrefutable evidence—particularly when dealing with corporations
  • If systematic, deliberate approach to building a case against a problem property through careful documentation by police and city attorneys
  • If there is cooperation among the city, county, and non-governmental agencies and the police do not dictate specific actions
  • If partners can hold the motel accountable for operating a business without excessive nuisance and crime complaints so that the motel management from minimally[meh2]  implementing recommendations and then claiming them to be ineffective

Auburn Boulevard Revitalization Project

(Catron and Wassmer 2005)


Place: Public Housing in Citrus Heights, California



Nuisance law

  • Revitalization effort was undertaken.
  • Purpose-formed nuisance response team comprised police and other public agencies.
  • Eviction was one of a range of possible responses.
  • Crime rates were significantly reduced (by 32%).
  • Robberies decreased (by 95%).
  • Crime increases were found in comparison areas.
  • Commercial activity in areas surrounding the revitalization project increased.
  • When traditional enforcement strategies were employed in combination with alternative strategies
  • At highly visible business premises, owners may have the most to lose by not cooperating

Neighbors Against Drugs (NAD) (Sheboygan Police Department 2005)


Place: Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Notice of potential use of abatement and eviction

  • Following unprecedented increases in illicit drug dealing including introduction of crack, Drug Unit and Community Policing Unit met and established that many drug houses were not subject to any followed up [meh3] due to tedious process of traditional law enforcement investigations and gathering evidence.
  • Police officer worked with community volunteers, local politicians, and business leaders to develop a plan.
  • Neighborhood residents became directly involved in identifying drug activity and filled out diaries documenting this activity.
  • Volunteers administered door-to-door pre-test survey to gather data on fear of crime and bystander effects and corroborated the evidence.
  • Once drug activity was verified, Neighbors Against Drugs (NAD) logos were posted at all houses except those suspected of being drug houses.
  • Educational meetings were held with property owners about civil abatement procedures and the eviction of problem tenants.
  • Media were used to explain NAD.
  • Victory parties were held after drug dealers were evicted, moved out, or stopped dealing.
  • Post-test surveys of affected neighborhoods were carried out.
  • “Victory” claimed in 18 neighborhoods with 59 drug houses eliminated.
  • Surveys indicated that: (1) people felt safer; (2) there were fewer suspected drug houses; (3) residents reported greater willingness to call the police
  • If a strong partnership was formed with community, including having a formalized mission statement and goals set through group consensus
  • If goals were pragmatic and achievable


Operation Safe Homes Drug Elimination Program (DEP)

(Fagan et al. 2006)


Place: Public Housing in

New York, New York



Federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988

  • Beefing up police presence.
  • Instituting volunteer tenant patrols.
  • Forming an anti-narcotics “strike force,” composed of attorneys, investigators, and other city staff who focused on the eviction of drug dealers.
  • Setting up a drug abuse treatment and prevention program.
  • No effect shown in the public housing.
  • Crime and drug problem reduction in the immediate neighborhood and in surrounding precincts.
  • If the funds do not merely supplement ongoing policing programs, as some claimed occurred here
  • If there are incentives for citizen cooperation
  • If funds go toward drug-demand reduction and informal social control programs


Public Housing Drug Elimination Program (DEP)

(Barbrey 2004)


Place: Public Housing in Knoxville, Tennessee


Federal Anti- Drug Abuse Act of 1988

  • One-strike eviction policy.
  • Neighborhood watch.
  • 24-hour security patrols.
  • Training and awareness programs.
  • Improved tenant screening.
  • Grants for the demolition and rebuilding of poorly designed properties.
  • Did not appear to reduce crime rates.



Uptown Men’s Shelter

(Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department 2000)


Place: David Three District, North Carolina

Some use of civil trespass

  • Men’s shelter identified as generating increased calls for service, including drugs-related issues.
  • Local business linked criminal activity and loss of patronage with the homeless population. Police found many of the homeless in the neighborhood were not associated with the shelter. Suspects were listing the shelter as their home address because it gave them easier access to services even though they did not live there.
  • Police surveyed 911 calls from the shelter and established that most were not appropriate use of 911, but resulted from poorly trained managers at the shelter using the police as “surrogate shelter managers.” Police found other evidence of problems with management at the shelter.
  • Police trained staff and management.
  • Shelter managers adopted a written policy, consistently applied across all shifts that articulated the grounds for banning people from the shelter.
  • Police expanded their authority in the area by adopting agreements with several businesses and local railways. The agreements, known as Authorization to Act as Agent, empowered police to enforce the law on private property in the absence of the owner or manager.
  • Officers set up a method for shelter residents to pass information to police about criminal activity without fear of being identified by offenders. The program was another way that officers hoped to gain the trust of a population that traditionally has had an uneasy relationship with police.
  • The most obvious measure of success was the reduction in 911 calls-for-service to the shelter.
  • Members of Business Coalition and residents of the area said they believed that improvements in management procedures and in the physical environment had gone a long way to reduce many of the problems—loitering, assaults, drug dealing—associated with the shelter.
  • Residents and business owners alike changed their perception of the shelter, believing that the shelter wanted to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.
    • If police encourage the property managers to become part of the solution by careful analysis and training to improve their capacity as place managers

Condemnation, Boarding Up, Demolition

The Snake Pit

(Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department 1994)


Place: Carmichael, Sacramento County, California

Zoning enforcement, Vehicle abatement, Code enforcement

  • Ongoing monitoring by four-person POP team of problem property owned by elderly gentleman.
  • Over time, record checks were run and occupants were arrested on warrants (drugs and other charges).
  • Enforcement had been ongoing and reactive and did not solve the problem.
  • Multi-agency response included: Police, Vehicle Abatement, County Counsel, County Building Inspectors, Sacramento Municipal Utilities District Field Supervisor, Planning Department; Zoning Enforcement County Code, Sacramento Sheriff’s Work Project supervisor and crew, Sacramento County Waste Disposal, and Hazardous Materials Supervisor.

Preparation phase:

  • Posted notices of substandard living conditions on property
  • Residents were given one week to leave or be evicted
  • Vehicles were tagged and notices placed on them of expired registrations and repairs required


  • Squatters and criminals were evicted
  • Vehicles were towed
  • Electrical metres and wiring were removed
  • 94,000 pounds of garbage was removed
  • Most illegal occupants left of their own accord; others left after some pressure was applied.
  • Elderly owner who thought the squatters and criminals were her friends (and there to help) agreed to enter a convalescent hospital and subsequently moved in with her son and was last known to be in good health.
  • Notice was posted on property that it was unsafe to occupy. It was fenced and later sold. Plan was to raze the buildings.
  • Publicity of the POP multi-agency response generated through TV coverage of the clean-up.
  • When there is a staged response with eviction notice and vehicle warnings being issued in advance
  • When there is sensitivity to the situation of the owner that helps ensure owner’s safety
  • If there is a multi-agency response, then all agencies with a role to play are involved in the planning, preparation, and the clean-up

Public Nuisance Taskforce

(Williams n.d.)


Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Controlled Substances Act, the Liquor Act, and other laws

  • Citizen complaints were lodged using a formal incident report and affidavit.
  • Prosecutors could send the information to the police and other agencies for further investigation.
  • Notice letters were sent to owners that allowed for property to be seized, shut down, or forfeited due to their association with drugs, weapons, gangs, or anti-social or violent behavior.
  • More than 2,000 nuisance properties were closed through administrative orders, civil injunction, property forfeiture, habitability condemnation, or negotiation.


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