Police officers tend to focus on enforcing laws, not changing or enacting them.

Police officers tend to focus on enforcing laws, not changing or enacting them.

But at a meeting last week, Columbus officers Larry Geis and Scott Clinger, with help from Assistant City Attorney William D. Sperlazza, promoted campaigns to do both. The gathering for Block Watch coordinators from the Northland area was more about rallying the troops than relaying information.

Proposed changes

What Clinger and Geis are hoping to see is an amendment to state law making violent crime a component in declaring bars, restaurants, after-hours clubs, motels and other venues to be public nuisances.

They also are seeking support for passage of an ordinance granting city officials some say in licensing hotels and motels, currently a function solely of state government.

Regarding the state statute, Clinger said a building could be the scene of multiple homicides, but if it's not also a place where arrests have been made for prostitution or illegal drug sales, violations of liquor laws or anything else that "substantially interferes with public decency, sobriety, peace and good order," as Ohio Revised Code currently states, having it declared a nuisance could be difficult.

"Under the Ohio Revised Code, it is worse to illegally sell a beer than to have a homicide," Clinger told Block Watch representatives.

As for the motel licensing issue, Sperlazza said the existing system led to his worst day in court, during a trial seeking to have the Columbus Inn and Suites on Zumstein Drive declared a public nuisance.

An investigator from the State Fire Marshal's Office was on the stand testifying about violations at the motel and calling it the "most disgusting one he had ever seen in Ohio," Sperlazza recalled.

When the lawyer for the motel owner rose to cross-examine the investigator, he handed him a piece of paper and asked if he could identify the document.

It was a renewal of the license to operate the motel issued by the Department of Commerce, of which the State Fire Marshal's Office is a part, Sperlazza said.

"What's the point of these guys even doing inspections?" he asked.

Seeking sponsor

The proposed change to the state's public nuisance law has received the backing of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, Clinger said. Now, a sponsor is being sought in the Ohio legislature.

"This is going to make a big difference in keeping your neighborhoods safe," Clinger said.

"All we were adding is a subsection adding the violence part," Geis said. "It's just a wording change. We're hoping it will be kind of quicker than trying to get a whole new law."

Kelsey Ellingsen, legislative aide to State Rep. David Leland (D-Clintonville) was on hand for last week's Block Watch coordinators' meeting. She said Leland had hoped to be there himself, but a friend died suddenly and he was attending a memorial service.

"This is an issue that's important to him," Ellingsen said.

While she could not say her boss definitely would sponsor the amendment, he "is willing to have that conversation," she said.

"This is on our radar," Ellingsen added.

Documented violations

To back up their request for support for what's being dubbed the Chula Vista Law, after a similar measure passed in a California city that shut down problem hotels by pulling a city license, Geis and Clinger provided a handout that included page after page of fire-inspection violations at what's now called the Extended Suites North on Zumstein Drive.

These involved unsanitary bedding, floors and carpeting; live bedbugs; mold; broken fire doors and windows; and out-of-date fire extinguishers.

All these violations, Geis said, were in rooms supposedly ready for occupancy.

The packet also contained the Department of Commerce license for the motel to operate through December.

While Columbus City Council members can't pass a law wresting away from the department the areas of inspection involved with its licensing process, Sperlazza said an ordinance could add requirements for obtaining a city license.

He said a first draft of a local version of the Chula Vista Law has been completed and is being reviewed by members of Columbus City Council's staff.

"I hope it's going in the right direction," Sperlazza said.