In the June 7 Metro story "Fairfax Examines Anti-Gang Vigilance," officials suggested a link between gang crime and illegal boardinghouses. They called for zoning and code inspectors to be trained to recognize "red flags that point to potential gang concerns."
As of July 1 Virginia prosecutors will have a new tool in their anti-gang arsenal. Virginia's nuisance abatement statutes originally afforded prosecutors the ability to file a civil suit to close a building and sell its contents upon showing that the property was being used as a house of prostitution. Such statutes work. In the 1980s, Alexandria was blighted by several "massage parlors" that operated as fronts for prostitution. Traditional law enforcement techniques -- sending in undercover officers, charging massage parlor employees with misdemeanors, arresting customers -- proved ineffective.
Then the commonwealth's attorney filed a series of civil actions under the nuisance abatement statutes seeking court orders to close the buildings for a year. That proved to be a powerful incentive for the property owners, and the establishments disappeared.
As of July 1 the same statutory scheme will be applicable to any building used, owned, occupied or leased for criminal street-gang activity. Any place where such activity is "conducted, permitted or carried on, continued, or exists" is fair game for closure.
The message from the General Assembly is clear: Vigilance is as much a responsibility of property owners, managers and landlords as it is of inspectors and law enforcement officials. The message from prosecutors should be no less clear: Property owners and landlords who fail to exercise this responsibility may face severe economic sanctions.
S. RANDOLPH SENGEL
City of Alexandria