Delaware Department of Justice
Attorney General
Kathy Jennings

Attorney General’s Power to Clean Up Communities Strengthened Under New Law

Measure expands Nuisance Abatement Program that focuses on crime-infested properties

Dover – A bill that enhances the Department of Justice’s ability to target crime-ridden properties through its Nuisance Abatement Program has been signed into law by Governor Jack Markell. “We will be able to shut down and clean up more properties that are havens for criminals and threats to the safety of our communities, and owners who allow criminal activity to occur on their properties will face tougher penalties” said Attorney General Beau Biden, who first worked with the General Assembly to bolster the program in 2007. “I want to thank the Governor and legislators for working with us to build on the success the Nuisance Abatement Program has had in helping Delaware’s neighborhoods.”

Senate Bill 65 was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, Representative Helene Keeley and Representative J.J. Johnson. It was signed into law by Governor Markell on August 3. “Drug dealers and other criminals often move into a neighborhood and cause serious problems for their neighbors,” said Senator Blevins, D-Elsmere. “This gives us an effective weapon that’s strong, yet fair to landlords and property owners, that allows us to clean up our neighborhoods and reduce crime in the process.”

In the past four years, the Attorney General’s Office has used its abatement authority to rehabilitate more than 140 properties and place 400 on its watch list. Under the Program, property owners who permit drug and vice crimes to occur on-site are given the choice of voluntarily cooperating to clean up the illegal activity, or being forced to clean up the crime by court order.

Specifically, the new law amends the Drug Nuisance and Social Vices Abatement Act by:

• Expanding the criteria used to declare a property a nuisance to include gun crimes, gang activity, high levels of violent crime and other offenses that injure a community.
• Allowing the Court to consider factors such as increased calls to police, decreased property values and residents’ fear of being outside in public places.
• Increasing the civil penalties for owners of nuisance properties to more accurately reflect the damage the criminal activity does to the community.

The Nuisance Abatement Program is a key component of the recently announced plan to target high crime areas across the State, starting with the City of Wilmington. The Attorney General’s Office created a specialized Wilmington Unit of eight prosecutors dedicated full-time to prosecuting crimes committed in the City. One of those prosecutors will focus solely on shutting down nuisance properties.

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