Connie Davis, a community service officer for the Craig Police Department, said there is one thing above all others she needs to get through her day.
A sense of humor.
Community service officers are responsible for enforcing city regulations regarding things such as junk, trash, abandoned vehicles, grass and weeds. They also handle animal and parking complaints, among others.
Davis, who has been with the department for about two-and-a-half years, and fellow community service officers Jill Nelson and Josh Wright are preparing for the summer, when their job becomes increasingly more demanding, she said.
The increased workload can be attributed to warmer weather, longer daylight hours and youths being out of school.
“Right now, at this time of the year, I’m finding that, in code enforcement, I’m on the phone a lot,” said Nelson, who has worked as a community service officer since January.
The officers are also expecting to see an increase in animal complaints, and the sheltering of stray dogs and cats in coming months.
The three officers spend their days responding to resident complaints about animals, codes and other items, following up on previous calls, and patrolling the city looking for code violations.
“It’s never the same day twice,” Nelson said.
Last year was the first year the police department was able to fully staff three code enforcement positions, Davis said.
According to the Craig Police Department’s 2009 year-end report, there was a 251-percent increase in the number of code enforcement activities from 2008 to 2009 as a result of code enforcement being fully staffed.
Last year, there were 1,096 code enforcement calls.
Among the top code violations officers responded to in 2009 were weed violations at 374 calls, abandoned vehicles at 340 calls and junk violations at 225 calls.
In 2009, the police department responded to 2,305 animal complaints, an 8-percent drop from 2008.
Through April this year, the community service officers have responded to 454 animal complaints, and 154 code violations and other requests.
Currently, officers are trying to curb excessive growth of weeds around properties by educating residents about preventative measures.
Specifically, the officers are looking out for the several “most wanted” noxious weeds that are considered invasive, fast-spreading and detrimental to residents’ lawns, Davis said.
The biggest culprits are thistle weeds on the west side of town, she said.
“You only have certain times of the year that … it is best to try to kill that type of weed because if you wait, you won’t actually kill the plant itself,” Davis said. “We try to educate people on the times of year to properly spray these to help with the problem.”
City ordinance states weeds must be kept below six inches and grass below 12 inches.
Chances are the community service officers will be knocking on residents’ doors if they have weeds, lawns or other items that violate city codes.
“We are not always met with open arms (from) a lot of the property owners,” Davis said.
The service officers give residents about 10 days to bring code violations into compliance. If a resident doesn’t comply, the officers can issue an administrative citation amounting to $150 for the first offense.
In some cases, officers are allowed to hire someone to bring the issue into compliance, and later bill the property owner for the services.
Nelson contends most residents are simply not aware of what city ordinances require.
“I think sometimes they take it personally,” she said. “Our job is really to enforce what city council has set up for a plan for the city. It can be taken personally if you come to someone’s door and tell them that they have to remove a piece of junk or something.”
Davis said the job can be touchy at times.
“I mean, you have knocking on somebody’s door, trying to explain to them what they need to do, and a lot of times they feel threatened by that and they react,” she said. “You use common sense.
“In our case, we are not armed, so if somebody looks like they are getting aggressive, we don’t hesitate to have the (police) back us up.”
But, interacting with residents that may not be as open to the officers is just a small hitch in the bigger picture of the officers’ goals.
“That’s the non-glamorous side of it, I guess,” Davis said. “The rewarding side of it is to see the progress that’s being made and the town being cleaned up.”
Nelson also said the job is rewarding.
“It’s hard for somebody to understand when they hear about people getting angry and you have dogs to chase, but it’s a very rewarding job,” she said. “It’s challenging every day whether it is someone that is difficult … or how to trick a dog to be caught.
“(But,) I see the difference that it is making in the city.”