Matt Denn Takes Aim At Drug Houses, Nuisance Properties

Wilmington – Attorney General Matt Denn announced Thursday that an initiative to partner with law enforcement agencies to accelerate use of the state’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement statute has shown significant results, including a substantial increase in the number of legal actions taken against properties where criminal nuisances have been occurring.

A total of 38 nuisance properties have been addressed over the last year. Nine formal actions against alleged nuisance properties have been filed in the last twelve months, a dramatic increase in the pace of court filings. The other 29 properties were addressed with actions short of court filings, including written agreements with property owners to take steps to prevent criminal activity.

Criminal nuisances include drug activity, illegal firearm activity, violent crime, and prostitution. Although the majority of the properties against which formal actions have been filed are located in the City of Wilmington, the state has also filed formal actions against properties in the cities of New Castle and Greenwood and in unincorporated New Castle County.

Matt Denn
Matt Denn

“The state’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement statute is a powerful tool for state and local officials to target properties that are central points for crime in their neighborhoods,” Attorney General Denn said. “But the statute demands – as it should – that the government compile a substantial amount of evidence in order to take action against an alleged nuisance property. The fact that we have been able to heighten our efforts in this area is a tribute to the law enforcement agencies that have worked with us to compile the facts, and to a number of attorneys and staff in our office who have dedicated time on top of their normal job responsibilities to be part of this effort.”

On top of the 38 properties Denn addressed, another 44 properties are currently being evaluated for potential criminal nuisance action, and 31 have been investigated but determined not to be appropriate for criminal nuisance enforcement.

The increased use of the Criminal Nuisance Abatement statute has been made possible by a heightened level of cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, upon whom DOJ relies to compile much of the evidence needed to prepare these actions, the dedication of a casual seasonal investigator at DOJ to focus exclusively on this issue, and the willingness of a number of DOJ attorneys to volunteer to work on an internal task force to prepare these actions in addition to their other job responsibilities. The DOJ effort is led by Deputy Attorneys General A.J. Roop and Greg Strong. For parcels within the City of Wilmington, the initiative is a partnership with the Crime and Blight Task Force formed by several agencies within the city.

The nuisance abatement statute was created by the General Assembly in 2000 to specifically address drug crimes, and expanded by the legislature in 2011 at the request of former Attorney General Beau Biden to cover other types of crime as well, with a specific focus on gun crimes. “We are very grateful that Senator Patricia Blevins, Representative Helene Keeley, Representative J.J. Johnson, and Attorney General Biden had the foresight in 2011 to expand this important tool for stabilizing neighborhoods afflicted by crime, and we are committed to making good use of it,” said Attorney General Denn.

“Too often we see just a handful of nuisance properties having a devastating impact on entire communities,” Sen. Blevins, who was the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 65 in 2011, said. “I’m pleased to see the Department of Justice is using the statute we updated to reduce crime by aggressively targeting places that exist as safe havens for drugs and other criminal activity.”

“Our neighborhoods have been dragged down by these drug houses,” said Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “Ridding our communities of them is critical to restoring safety and pride to the neighborhoods. This law has allowed us to fight drug dealers at another level, by taking away their base of operations. I’m thankful for the diligence of the Department of Justice in tackling these nuisance properties.”

“I heard from residents constantly about this issue at nearly every civic association meeting. Residents felt like they were being held hostage by these properties,” said Rep. JJ Johnson, D-Jefferson Farms. “It brings down their quality of life and makes their neighborhoods more dangerous. People look to their elected officials and law enforcement to protect them from these types of nuisance properties, and that’s what we have been doing, one property at a time.”

Denn said that citizens who wish to have the Department of Justice investigate a potential criminal nuisance property should call (302) 577-5093.

Image Credits: State Of Delaware

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