This is because these chapters describe “unlawful activities” that are not serious crimes but could still trigger eviction. Chapter 38 is the city’s liquor code that includes a behavioral offense called “disruptive intoxication.” Chapter 52 lists offenses “against the public peace” and covers behaviors including, but not limited to, underage possession of tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis; physical fighting; curfew violations; and a range of violations for making obnoxious or excessive noise.
Rules for Thee
I live in a neighborhood where almost everybody owns their homes. It’s a great place to live at least 361 days a year. However, one of my middle-aged neighbors occasionally gets himself massively drunk, plays loud music past decent hours, and sets off powerful fireworks — sometimes in other people’s yards — until somebody calls the police.
But even if my neighbor is cited for noise nuisance or disruptive intoxication, he never has to worry about losing his home for it.
That’s because ordinance violations are what used to be called “petty” crimes and a lot of times, it turns out, they’re about kids being kids. Therefore, the administrative hearings used to prosecute them are not actual court. The offenses are supposed to be treated as a little more serious than a parking ticket. But that’s true only in neighborhoods like mine. In residential neighborhoods that are mostly rentals, DeKalb is turning this system into something more sinister.
In fact, DeKalb’s ordinance violations are already so problematic in enforcement that I’ve begun a series on them, focusing at first on the ticketing of children for school infractions and the stiff fines meted out that put families into debt. Most recently I’ve discovered that 84% of a sample of 44 ticketed adults happened in the poorest quadrant of the city, and the procedure evidently didn’t include sending Notices of Hearing required by the city’s own hearing code to adhere to due process.
So with our recently acquired knowledge that people in our poorest neighborhoods get cited with regularity, and children are fair game even in their schools, we have to face at least the hypothetical possibility that a kid in DeKalb could get caught with a vape pen and end up homeless.
Actually, it’s probably a bit more than hypothetical, because the Barnes administration is proposing a declaration of zero tolerance in the opening paragraph of Chapter 10.
What’s the Alternative
What City of DeKalb should do with its Crime-Free Housing program update:
- Remove the harmful overkill by deleting Chapter 38 and Chapter 52 from Crime-Free eviction eligibility.
- Acknowledge and mitigate the legal liability issues for the city and for landlords that more than a dozen professional and advocacy groups have already cautioned us about.
- Consider adopting a voluntary program such as Naperville’s voluntary Crime Free Multi-Housing certification program.
- Consider a multi-pronged approach such as Champaign’s Gun Violence Prevention and Response that emphasizes neighborhood and youth engagement.
- Examine more of the positive potential of the PD’s Community Support Services Division instead of 100% punitive programs.
Separately but very much relatedly, investigate the administrative hearing process for disproportionately punitive responses to minor legal offenses, omissions of due process, discriminatory patterns in enforcement of ordinance violations, and the implications of prosecuting children in a system built for adults.
Recent video contributed by a reader, of a case of “Crime Free” in Granite City, Illinois, shows that concerns about “Crime Free” programs are not exaggerated.