Enforcing crime and city codes

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He’s part of a movement with two goals — cleaning up eyesores littering Belen and making the Hub City a better place to live in.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Belen Police Detective Martin Benavidez speaks to a resident about their code enforcement violation. The goal of addressing such issues is to improve the quality of life in Belen.

Belen Police Detective Martin Benavidez not only investigates crimes, but for the past few months, he has been patrolling the streets in search of nuisance properties with overgrown weeds, broken down vehicles and piles of trash.

“I don’t live in Belen, but I work here, so its like I’m part of this community and I would love to see it cleaned up and be a better place for everybody to live in,” Benavidez said.

Every week, Benavidez combs the streets for about 12 hours looking for code enforcement violations with the intention of getting the resident on premise to resolve the issue.

“It seems every neighborhood has a few houses on their block who have overgrown weeds or some kind of problem,” he said.

Benavidez, who has been an officer for 11 years, began working on code enforcement violations three months ago when he was promoted to detective, since it was part of his duties.

The officer discovers property violations while patrolling or through citizen complaints, which are kept anonymous.

While on patrol, Benavidez looks for excessive amounts of weeds, such as those that are six feet tall, vehicles parked in a driveway for an extended period of time, such as those that are disabled, on blocks or have weeds growing around them, and mountains of trash.

“I’ve seen some of the weirdest things. People will run out of places to put stuff in their houses and they’ll move it out into their front yard or put a tarp over it,” he said.

One citizen had a large broken hot tub standing on its side in front of their home.

Once Benavidez spots a violation, he’ll contact the resident, make them aware of the problem and set up an agreement with a deadline to address the issue.

If there is little to no progress, Benavidez issues the resident a citation summoning them into Belen Municipal Court.

“For the most part, people that I do contact usually make an effort to clean up their property and aren’t issued citations,” he said.

Benavidez estimates he’s issued about 10 citations a month from “a handful of residents that straight out refuse to do anything,” he said.

Throughout Benavidez’s 11 years as an officer, he’s noticed a link between clean neighborhoods and a reduction in crime in those neighborhoods.

Visibly seeing a police officer talking with residents and keeping an eye on violations makes criminals think twice before committing a crime, he said.

“It’s a presence, as well. I do go out there in my police car and I have my badge and shirt that says, ‘police,’ in the public view,” he said. “I’m sure that’s impacting the neighborhoods quite a bit.”

Through Benavidez’s patrols, the police department gains information on who is in the community and suspicious activities that need to be kept an eye on.

Addressing violations can also highlight other ongoing problems, such as animal cruelty and seniors living in uninhabitable dwellings.

Nuisance properties lead to tension between neighbors, but by removing the problem neighbors get along better and in turn watch each others property and deter crime.

Code enforcement violations affect more than one individual — they affect the entire community, said Belen Police Chief Dan Robb.

“Code is one of those things that by having him do I’m hoping it will improve the quality of life in Belen and all of its citizens,” Robb said.

Cleaning up the community is a long term project that’s not going to happen over night, but little by little, Robb said.

Although code enforcement may not eliminate all violations, it’s a step in the right direction to make the community a better place.

“It’s one step at a time,” he said. “He might start with the house down at the corner and slowly progress from there.”

To report code enforcement violations, contact Detective Martin Benavidez at 966-2690.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.