Unoccupied houses line a block of E. Bland St. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Dennis Kintigh recently spoke to the Roswell Association of Realtors about law enforcement, derelict structures within the city limits and their influence on crime.
Speaking from his years of experience with the FBI, Roswell Police Department and Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, Kintigh noted that derelict and abandoned structures become a magnet to criminals, drug users and squatters.
“This is not a new phenomenon. … In 2000, I went into a derelict structure as the part of a search. I’ve never seen more used needles in my life. That was the first time I asked to have a building condemned.”
The empty buildings are quickly vandalized and become a place for children to play.
“They go to explore, but there’s needles on the floor and broken glass. The floors are not safe; they could give out from under them. The home needs to be condemned,” Kintigh said.
One such home lies in the 1600 block of North Ohio Avenue. All the exterior doors hang open and are barely held up by their hinges. While the windows are boarded as required for safety reasons, vandals have entered the home through the doors and broken all the glass from the inside of the building. The house deteriorates daily.
Graffiti is painted on the back and the kitchen floor has collapsed, leaving a gaping hole through which anyone could fall, especially after dark. The neighborhood kids and teenagers come late at night to explore or to have the kind of parties of which most parents would not approve. The house is not only unsightly, it is dangerous.
According to Kintigh, Roswell has 100 condemned buildings. The owner has an option to fix their building and the structure may be taken off the condemned list. The cost of demolition for each is about $6,000.
“The city usually tears down about 18 buildings a year. They bring in road crews from the Streets Department during the off season, but that still means we have five years worth of derelict structures currently condemned.”
He pointed out that the figure of 100 only pertains to condemned buildings. It does not include the number of abandoned and derelict structures throughout Roswell, which have not been condemned.
He quoted a 1982 study conducted by George L. Kelling about the relationship between deteriorating neighborhoods and crime.
The article written by Kelling and James Q. Wilson said: “… at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. …one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows.”
“It’s a very thin line between a good neighborhood and a bad one, and a good neighborhood goes bad more quickly than a bad neighborhood can be raised back up again,” Kintigh said.
The key is to identify neighborhoods at the tipping point—where the public order is deteriorating but not unreclaimable, where the streets are used frequently but by apprehensive people, where a window is likely to be broken at any time, and must quickly be fixed if all are not to be shattered.
He described the impact of the work done by Codes Enforcement on maintaining not only the appearance of the city, but on crime. “Disorderly behavior often follows disorderly appearance.”
Kintigh added that not all deteriorating structures are uninhabited. “Some people continue to reside in them. They may not be in the physical or mental condition to maintain upkeep. The residents may be old. Some people are just too poor. We need to help them out. There’s a lot of civic-minded people who might be willing to extend a helping hand,” Kintigh said.
Larry Fresquez of Fresquez Real Estate Consulting and Sales urged people to take an active part. He asked citizens to contact Codes Enforcement about abandoned buildings in their neighborhood. “Codes Enforcement do a good job, but they spend most of their time dealing with complaints.”
Fresquez estimated that it can take from six weeks to two months to get an inspection completed and often more than one request may be required to get a result. He said Codes Enforcement is approachable and sympathetic to these requests. He attributed the delay to the lack of staff, with only four employees to deal with the demand.