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Fresno prepares for zealous code enforcement with many question marks

SOME DON’T TRUST COPS

A collision is coming.

Crime, cops, health, neighborhoods, the innocent, gangs, landlords, City Hall politics, 2035 general plan, community activists, justice, trust, media and Phase Two of the Code Enforcement Task Force – all seeking top spot on the agenda.

I went to Andy Levine to get a hint of what might happen.

Levine is executive director of Fresno’s Faith in Community, a coalition of churches and activist groups. Faith in Community itself is part of various nonprofit coalitions focused on improving Fresno’s overall health and serving poor/minority Fresnans.

Levine wasn’t part of the Phase One task force. But few in Fresno know more than this man about what’s happening with city policy as it relates to disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“This narrative that the residents don’t care about the criminal activity in their complexes – I would push back on that,” Levine told me. “We serve communities enough to know that the vast majority of residents in all of our neighborhoods – and particularly lower income neighborhoods – want to see criminal activity go away. They don’t support drug dealing or anything else (criminal) that might be happening in their community.

“I would actually argue that drug dealing and those kinds of things are happening pretty equally across all of our neighborhoods. It just gets talked about more in low-income neighborhoods…. All of our families care about living in a safe and healthy and non-violent community.”

At the same time, Levine said, many people in low-income neighborhoods distrust the police.

“It’s a very real issue in our community,” he said. “It’s not because they don’t believe police have a role to play and there’s a need for law enforcement to keep them safe. They want those things.

“But in our community and across the nation, there is a deep mistrust and fear of police and law enforcement, particularly in communities of color. It’s because of our nation’s historic and – I would argue – current epidemic of racism, and how that manifests itself in interactions between law enforcement and community…. People based on their own interactions with law enforcement feel mistreated, disrespected, unseen, and even abused. That’s inevitably going to translate into how they’re viewing law enforcement coming into their neighborhood.”

Levine didn’t attend the Rudd news conference at Summerset announcing the Code Enforcement Strike Team with its ties to the Police Department. And the city manager didn’t at that time explain in detail how things would work.

But Levine knew enough to see trouble ahead.

“If a part of the city’s plan with this strike force is to bring police in with them, then several things come to mind,” Levine said. “If the idea we’re hearing from council members and City Hall is we need residents to speak out and speak up when they’ve got (code enforcement) concerns, and we need to proactively engage the residents in the process, then bringing police with them is not the way to actually do that.

“Again, I say this with the understanding that all of our communities believe that there’s a role for police to play. Nobody’s saying that there they don’t want police addressing crime and violence in their communities. It’s about being clear on how we have to move forward on rebuilding trust between our communities and law enforcement. Having the police coming in as an occupying force along with code enforcement, potentially, is not the way to actually build trust.”

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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