Compliance officer details how Clallam's junk-car law will be enforced
By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News
May 30, 2007
PORT ANGELES, WA - Rich Sill has a brand-new junk car ordinance, and he can't wait not to enforce it.
Sill, Clallam County's code compliance officer, works by cooperation and collaboration when he can, seldom by confrontation and coercion.
The new, tougher junk vehicle law - which won't take effect until July 1 - simply gives Sill "another tool in the toolbox," in his words.
The entire array of legal strategies, he said, is called Community Oriented Policing.
COP, Sill told the Port Angeles Business Association on Tuesday, is proactive rather than reactive.
In traditional police patrolling, "you drive around on the beat and you wait for a call," Sill told association members meeting in Joshua's Restaurant, 113 DelGuzzi Drive.
Using COP, he said, officers "are looking for those [troublesome] environments and taking care of them ahead of time."
The approach, he explained, helps law enforcers deal with trends, not just events.
Junkers create 'cancer'
A junk car that "attracts" more junk cars can depress property values and create a neighborhood where drug dealers and their criminal associates are likely to set up shop, Sill said.
Left to itself, such a "cancer area" probably won't get better as people steer clear of the neighborhood and, perhaps, avoid the entire town, he said.
Enforcing a junk vehicle law or a fire, building or health code can arrest that trend - even if officers arrest no individuals - Sill said.
Since 2006, when Sill became Clallam County undersheriff, deputies have turned more toward the COP approach.
Sill left the position early this year but remains a sworn officer.
COP also means enlisting the help of law-abiding residents.
"It empowers the people to go back and control their own neighborhoods," he said.
Residents' typical response to a COP initiative is, "We healed the neighborhood," he said.
A 'discretionary' law
Sill called the junk car law - which will outlaw a single hulk on tracts smaller than 2.5 acres and carry $100 per day fines - "a discretionary approach."
Invoking it would be similar to ticketing a motorist for driving 36 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone, he said, a rare step unless provoked by aggravating circumstances.
Sill would rather get people on his side - and so far he's had success.
Since becoming code compliance officer, Sill and Tony Polizzi, code enforcement officer, have helped residents rid themselves of 1,175 junk cars.
Clallam County auto wrecker Don Baker hauls the junkers for free to county gravel pits.
When he has enough cars, Baker summons a mobile auto crusher that flattens the hulks, which Baker sells for scrap.
"We're creating a trend," Sill said of the public-private partnership, "and we're reversing a trend."
The trend has a long way to run, however.
Sill said there are 8,000 to 10,000 junk vehicles in Clallam County.
Yet Sill remains upbeat.
"We're going to change this county," he said, "and we are changing this county."
Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.