Thursday, September 24, 2020

Code enforcement volleys back to police department

 

 

By Noelle H. Lowery
noelle@coastalbreezenews.com

Prior to leaving his post as city manager on September 30, Jim Riviere made one last change to the operations of the City of Marco Island. As of October 1, Code Enforcement is part of the Police Department. The announcement was made at the October 7 City Council Meeting.

“Prior to his leaving, he had a discussion with me and others to move the code department back to the police department. He spoke to two directors. It was (Riviere’s) decision and his move,” Council Chairman Joe Batte explained during the meeting.

While it is unclear why Riviere made this decision, it may have something to do with the city’s current efforts to strengthen its code regulations. Daphne Bercher of Gray-Robinson Law Offices has been working on the new codification since June, and she and City Attorney Burt Saunders are expected to begin bringing the revised code ordinances before the city council for approval in the coming weeks.

Not all of the city councilors were game for the transfer, though, nor were they aware of the situation. “I found out by chance through rumors, and I called Gil (Polanco) and questioned him on it,” Councilor Amadeo Petricca told the council. “I also spoke with Chief Baer. I was looking for more policies and procedures of how it will operate under the Police Department. I still find the (Code Enforcement) department problematic, and I want more information. How will they inform council? I want more specifics not generalities.”

Councilor Larry Sacher echoed Petricca’s hesitation, and recommended that the move be postponed until Bercher and Saunders deliver the new code to the council. “The final result we hope to get is to have a workable code,” Sacher said. “The folks in Code Enforcement right now are a bouncing ball, and mixed messages are being sent to them by city management… I haven’t heard what the advantage is.”

Batte reiterated the move was a done deal: “(The Police) are the enforcement professionals. This is not an administrative procedure. This is an enforcement procedure, and enforcement blended in with good, kind compliance will get our folks to understand what we are trying to do with the professionalism I’ve seen in the PD. This is a good home.”

Regardless of the council’s confusion, this is not the first time Code Enforcement will fall under the watchful eye of the Marco Island Police Department. In fact, the three-person office has been volleyed back and forth between the Police Department and Community Affairs for the better part of 14 years. Code Enforcement originally was part of the Police Department. It found a home in Community Affairs in 2003, but was switched back to the Police Department in 2010. Last November, Riviere transferred it back to Community Affairs, and now, it is once again a function of law enforcement.

According to Assistant Chief of Police Dave Baer, the latest transfer will not interrupt the city’s current Code Enforcement work and will only work to strengthen it and the Police Department. “By definition and function, a police officer can enforce code,” Baer noted in an interview after the meeting. “They have the authority to do so. Obviously, we prioritize, and there is a division of labor with primary and secondary missions. Code compliance folks cannot enforce criminal law, only code.”

Still, he says, the three code enforcement personnel are a force multiplier for the city. “We are going to expand some of their duties and add value to the organization,” he intimated. “They are another set of eyes. They are a multiplier to patrol beaches and school areas. We are anxious to use them in some additional ways that will enhance the safety aspect and the quality of life.”

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