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A New Way to Repair “Broken Windows”: LA’s ACE in the Hole

GUEST WORDS - In these challenging economic times, Angelenos must use new and creative ways to stretch their hard-earned dollars.  The City of Los Angeles must do the same with your tax dollars as it struggles to provide essential services to its residents, including the protection and preservation of their health, safety and quality of life.

In that spirit, last year, we authored a comprehensive, self-funded, citywide ordinance for Administrative Citation Enforcement known as “ACE.”  The ACE proposal creates an administrative citation alternative to the current practice of criminally prosecuting certain low-grade public health and safety or “broken window” violations.  

Criminal prosecutions are traditionally a lengthy, costly, and oftentimes ineffective way to resolve low-grade violations that do not pose an immediate danger to the public.  Under ACE, minor offenders who timely correct their violations and pay a fine will avoid a criminal record and keep their cases out of the courts, which are already overburdened and facing similar budget shortfalls.  

Recent drastic cuts to court budgets and staffs make ACE an even more timely and necessary measure to protect public safety.  In fact, Superior Court judges have expressly recognized and complimented ACE as an important and innovative approach during this time of reduced public resources.

One of the core missions of the City is to enforce Municipal Code provisions affecting public health and safety.  These include minor violations related to: building maintenance; land use; zoning; excessive noise; waste dumping; vending; drinking in public; park and beach regulations; and unpermitted businesses.  

The enforcement of these codes is also key to maintaining the look, feel and quality of life of the City’s varied communities.  Experience has shown that when these broken window violations are ignored, they foster more serious criminal activity, pose increased threats to public health and safety and decrease business and property values.  

The timely correction of these violations has become a cornerstone of “community policing,” with marked success in formerly neglected areas of the City.  For example, consistently pursuing enforcement actions against apartment management companies or other businesses that are maintaining or operating properties in violation of health or building safety codes eliminates environments and conditions prone to gang recruitment, prostitution, drug dealing, graffiti and vandalism.  

Our diligent neighborhood prosecution efforts of the past few years have dramatically reduced crime rates throughout the City, including historic decreases in homicides and gang violence in communities where these crimes once flourished.     

Unfortunately, recent and contemplated budget reductions threaten the City’s ability to continue our broken window enforcement efforts.  The sheer size and scale of this City, an area of nearly 500 square miles, makes it even more difficult for the City’s remaining enforcement officers to respond to, investigate, or refer such violations for criminal prosecution in a timely manner.  

As a result, many violations either will not be prosecuted or will meander through the courts for months or years, with little hope for a prompt resolution of the underlying violation or correction of the illegal condition, while affected residents and communities continue to suffer.      

How will ACE work to the benefit of our residents?  City enforcement departments designated by the City Council will be authorized, at their discretion, to issue an administrative citation for a wide range of low-grade code violations and to refer these matters for administrative hearing and enforcement.  

Because the ACE citation is an alternative to arrest or citation of misdemeanor offenders, our limited criminal enforcement, prosecution and judicial resources will be conserved for more serious, repeat, and recalcitrant offenders deserving of criminal prosecution by the City Attorney’s Office.  

City officers, investigators and inspectors, such as those in the Police and Fire Departments, Department of Building and Safety, Animal Services, and Housing Department, will then be spared the impossible choice between criminal enforcement or, in the future of ever-diminishing resources, allowing broken windows violations to go uncharged and uncorrected.  

Moreover, independent hearing officers, either Superior Court judge pro tems or administrative law judges, will preside over the hearings of persons who challenge such citations and provide necessary due process and oversight.  Decisions issued by the hearing officers may be appealed to the Superior Court.    

Other municipalities faced with budget and resource limitations, including San Diego and Sacramento, have already seen the wisdom and success of implementing an administrative citation program.  The City of Los Angeles should pursue a similar cost-effective course of action.        

In this era of shrinking enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial resources, it makes sense for the City to immediately initiate a code enforcement program that maximizes public safety and provides more flexibility to its officers as they strive to achieve real-time compliance, while minimizing government costs.  

The proposed ACE program ensures that our City’s laws are enforced in a fair, consistent, expedient and more efficient manner.  Lastly, the ACE program will utilize existing City resources and will not require the imposition of any new taxes or fees, or the hiring of any additional City staff.

Hopefully, this City and its leaders will be as innovative as our residents in navigating through these difficult times, especially in protecting the health, safety and quality of life for all Angelenos.


“LA’s ACE Program Comes with a Big Tip Jar” – Stephen Box

(Paul Koretz is Councilman for Los Angeles 5th District. Carmen Trutanich is Los Angeles City Attorney.)

Tags: broken windows, ACE, Administrative Citation Enforcement, Los Angeles, crime, Municipal Code, city budget, budget cuts

Vol 9 Issue 77
Pub: Sept 27, 2011