Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski this week announced plans to introduce the Abatement of Public Nuisances Act, a proposal to amend and update Baltimore County’s longstanding “padlock law,” to authorize the Chief of Police to take action against properties with repeated public nuisance violations.
“Enhancing public safety and security in Baltimore County is a top priority, and we are constantly looking for new ways to do so,” Olszewski said. “This proposal will provide law enforcement with a stronger tool to prevent properties from becoming havens for illegal activity.”
Under the proposed legislation, the Chief of Police can take action if two public nuisance violations have occurred on a premises within the previous two years. In addition, the bill authorizes the Chief to order immediate abatement or closure, subject to a hearing before the County Administrative Officer or a designee.
Under current law, when there have been repeated incidents of crime, including homicides and other violent offenses at a single location, the Police Department has limited ability to compel property owners to cooperate with law enforcement and adopt recommended security and safety measures or to comply with requirements for licensing, zoning, and other rules, including abiding by their permitted times of operation.
“This updated law will make it possible for our police department to prevent additional crimes by persuading operators of establishments to make reasonable changes, and by closing those premises if the owners refuse to cooperate,” said Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt. “We need this authority to effectively address the small number of establishments that repeatedly endanger public safety.”
According to a County press release:
The proposed legislation is similar to public nuisance laws in other jurisdictions in Maryland and the region.
The Abatement of Public Nuisances Act defines as a public nuisance any premises where, twice in a two year period, the premises was used:
- For a violation of the law relating to prostitution or assignation
- For adult entertainment that violates county code, licensing, or zoning requirements
- For assembling for purpose of illegally administering a controlled dangerous substance (CDS)
- For the illegal manufacture or distribution of CDS or paraphernalia
- For the illegal storage or concealment of CDS or paraphernalia in sufficient quantity to indicate intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense illegal CDS;
- For illegal gambling
- For storage or possession of stolen property
- For illegal storage of firearms
- In the furtherance of a crime of violence
- By persons who engage in a crime of violence on or near the premises
- For criminal gang activity.
Under the proposed bill, the Administrative Officer must consider the following factors when evaluating the Police Chief’s proposed abatement or closure order:
- The severity of the violations
- The good faith of the violator in following safety and security recommendations made by the Police Department
- Any history of prior violations
- The impact of violations on community safety and security.
The bill provides for immediate enforcement of the Police Chief’s order, upon approval by the Administrative Officer. The bill authorizes the Administrative Officer to approve an agreement reached by the violator and the Chief of Police. In addition, the bill provides for an appeal, to the Office of Administrative Hearings.
The Abatement of Public Nuisances Act will be introduced to the County Council on Monday, March 7, 2022.