DeKALB – Carl Leoni retired this month after 33 years as a DeKalb police officer, but he’s still on the front lines of community policing.
This time, he is doing it as DeKalb’s crime-free housing and inspections coordinator – a new position created by the city to implement the housing rules the City Council passed in October.
“I enjoy the aspect of helping people. I enjoy the aspect of fighting crime,” said Leoni, who held the rank of patrol lieutenant and operations commander when he retired. “I saw this as a way to ease out of police work. I did it for 33 years, pretty much my whole adult life, and it’s hard to give it up. “
This month, Leoni became the first employee in a new bureau city leaders created after two years of discussing ways to reduce crime and poor property maintenance in the city’s rental and owner-occupied housing. He’s building relationships with local landlords, who didn’t always support the new measures, as officials work to hire a clerk and inspectors who will join the bureau over the next four months or so.
As the housing bureau coordinator, Leoni is a liaison for city officials, DeKalb police and local landlords.
One of his responsibilities is the disorderly house provision. Under this provision, the city could prohibit a landlord from renting a certain property if that property is the site of three or more unlawful activities in a certain time frame. If the landlord reaches “strike three,” they could face fines and interior inspections of their property, in addition to the prohibition.
Leoni said he would review police calls to rental properties from the night before and notify landlords of any crimes that occurred there.
“I follow it up with a letter that explains what happened ... they, in turn, will send me a reply on how they decided to deal with it,” Leoni said. “The thought process here is, if you develop a pattern with a certain tenant, we will work with the landlord to get that tenant evicted.”
Leoni clarified that the strikes apply to a landlord if they fail to deal with a particular tenant; a landlord would not have five strikes if police are called five times to deal with different crimes happening at a certain property on the same night. Nor would he want to penalize a landlord for a troublesome tenant he or she hasn’t had a chance to deal with yet.
“If we go to apartment B three times in one night and arrest those people three times in one night, I’m going to look at that the way I’ve looked at police work my whole career,” Leoni said. “There’s the spirit of the law and there’s the letter of the law. You need to be reasonable in the way you enforce the law.”
Leoni also will play a key role in getting crime prevention training for the landlords and their employees as well.
“The idea is to move criminals out of the rental properties,” Leoni said.
But Leoni’s office is still in the beginning stages. Leoni said they are interviewing for the clerk position next week, and three part-time inspectors who will conduct an exterior sidewalk inspections of rental properties will be hired sometime in the summer, City Manager Mark Biernacki said.
Leoni himself needs to be trained, too. He said he knows a lot more about crime than building code, and he will be certified in these areas soon.
Communicating with landlords will also mean communicating with the DeKalb Area Rental Association – a group of local landlords that emerged during the two-year discussion on the housing ordinances.
DARA supported a number of the initiatives, including the disorderly house provision, registering all landlords in the city, and adding a mandatory crime-free lease addendum into all rental agreements. If a tenant signs it and later is found committing a crime in or around his or her apartment, he or she could be evicted.
But they opposed the fees to fund the new bureau. Every landlord pays a fee of $50 for each building they manage, as well as $15.42 for each unit in a multifamily home. DARA President William Heinisch and others have described this as double taxation.
A number of mayoral and municipal candidates said at a DARA-sponsored candidates’ night that they opposed the additional fees being placed on the landlords, with some opposing the bureau.
Both Heinisch and Leoni all struck diplomatic chords, stating they are working together to the same goal.
“We agree that we want a better city of DeKalb,” Heinisch said.