Council’s three strikes laws could create incentive for Wellington businesses to self-report

By Jonathan Delozier -

A “three strikes” nuisance ordinance forged with bar violence in mind is moving forward.

Wellington village council wants to rein in problems that result in police being dispatched to businesses, most notably The Mosey Inn, and certain residences.

Fines could be levied after police are called to an address three times in a 12-month period. The cost would be based on the hourly wage of responders plus 75 percent, multiplied by the number of hours taken to remedy the situation.

Police chief Tim Barfield feels simply discussing what the village can do to cut into nuisance calls is already helping.

“My job is to try to make the people in this village safe and feel safe,” he said. “When establishments caught wind of the fact that new measures were being discussed to cut down on nuisance complaints, we began to see much better self-reporting of that kind of activity. The Mosey Inn has called us down there to do walk-throughs, and to check out anything suspicious. If an incident is self-reported, it won’t be looked at as severely in terms of punishment for the business.”

A Dec. 28 stabbing and melee capped off a year that saw Wellington police called to The Mosey Inn 59 times for complaints ranging from theft and noise to more serious and violent offenses.

While Barfield is encouraged by the positive steps being taken by the business without yet being forced, he is very much open to new legal steps.

“This kind of legislation puts a lot of work at my feet,” he said. “It was an issue a year and a half ago when I got here. Then it kind of went away for about a year. Then the stabbing incident in December brought it back to the table. The reality is we don’t have the time to not act. Some of the complaints have been the fault of the business, some have not. People are people. But the question has to be asked if an environment is being created that enables this sort of behavior. Are patrons being overserved?”

Spending too many resources at one or a few locations is almost as dangerous as the incidents themselves, according to Barfield.

“During the December melee, our entire police force was committed to one location and one situation,” he added. “What about the other residents? What happens if there is a house fire, or if someone is driving recklessly in another location? Especially in a smaller village like Wellington, it is not responsible to have an unequal distribution of vital public services.”

The village ordinance committee’s next scheduled meeting is May 2.

A few hangups on wording and time constraints at the previous meeting are all that is holding the ordinance from being passed into law, said chairman Guy Young. He also pointed out that Maple Heights — Barfield’s place of work prior to Wellington — employed a similar policy when patterns of complaints and incidents began to develop.

Legislation along these lines is not without controversy, however.

Lorain just repealed its own version of a “three strikes” law last month. Officials felt it tended to put residents in the difficult position of choosing to report an incident such as domestic violence or not reporting them in order to to shield themselves from “three strikes” consequences, according to Leon Mason, who heads Lorain’s building, housing, and planning department.

“It was determined that our law was not only forcing residents into unfair and unsafe choices when reporting a crime at their homes, but also opening the door for discrimination from landlords,” said Mason. “As a city that receives state funds, we are subject to fair housing laws and regulations. A law should never create any scenario where there is double victimization for a citizen.”

Double victimization occurs when someone who reports a crime such as domestic violence at their residence is also subject to action being taken against them by their landlord, according to Mason.

That action is at the landlord’s discretion, and can range from higher rent to even eviction.

Mason also pointed to Charlotte, N.C., as a good template for eliminating these kind of flaws in nuisance ordinances. When Charlotte faced the same kind of discrepancies in early 2013, legislators there amended their laws to include new ways for landlords, tenants, and law enforcement to work together before action is taken that could hurt the tenant.

The city also better differentiated between repeated calls about domestic violence and calls over problems like noise and vandalism.

“The gist of this entire law is making sure responsibility for bad situations goes where it’s supposed to,” added Barfield. “In my prior experiences with this, private residences began to show the same desire to self-report that The Mosey Inn has shown. If a landlord has tenants who are showing a pattern of bad behavior, he is going to be more swift in dealing with it if there is financial incentive to do so. Whether that means eviction or simply being more proactive in telling them what is or isn’t acceptable behavior is not my decision. All I can do is continue to give residents the tools they need.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

By Jonathan Delozier