Written by Founding Partner Matthew Silver
Code enforcement officers all over the United States increasingly are being tasked with community quality of life and safety duties that put them at risk. In addition, in my states, with the public shift away from policing, code enforcement officers are asked to fill the gap, and consequently, are dealing with nuisances and other issues that were traditionally in the realm of police departments.
As a result, code enforcement officers face heightened physical threats as well as health threats. By definition, code enforcement officers put themselves in dangerous situations dealing with problem issues like substandard housing, bed bug and rodent infestations, mold and lead abatement, illegal cannabis grows, environmental hazards and discharges, and seeking compliance from hostile violators, some of whom have criminal histories and do not appreciate government inspectors on their property or otherwise requiring them to comply with the law.
Nonetheless, despite the increased risk thrust upon code enforcement officers by virtue of their job duties, it is no secret that code enforcement officers in many jurisdictions lack basic protections. Most code enforcement officers are not peace officers, almost none in California are, and in many places, there is little desire to be such – a reflection of the distinct roles and purposes peace officers and code enforcement officers serve. Non-sworn officers, however, still need reasonable protections in order to do their jobs, and if policymakers want to encourage people to enter the profession.
Yet, very few jurisdictions have safety standards specifically applicable to code enforcement officers. This leaves them entirely without safety protocols, training and tools in some agencies, and in others, are subject to inadequate safety standards applicable to dissimilar jobs like building inspectors, planning staff and the like.
Without safety protections for code enforcement officers, they, in turn, cannot protect the community or carry out the many priorities reflected in the laws and policies of city councils, county supervisors and state legislatures.
In California, the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers (CACEO), in partnership with Senator Monique Limon, has sought to address this issue with Senate Bill (SB) 296. This bill is simple but effective: every city or county that employs a code enforcement officer must develop safety standards that are specific to code enforcement officers and the threats they face in their jurisdiction.
In California, with its 482 cities and 57 counties, a one-sized-fits-all program would not work; code enforcement officers deal with different issues and face different hazards in each jurisdiction. Further, each employer may have different, but equally effective approaches to safety standards specific to enforcement officers.
Right now, SB 296 sits on Governor Newson’s desk awaiting signature to become law. It received rare unanimous approval from the Legislature, although it took a significant effort to ensure it passed the Appropriations Committees in both legislative chambers.
Nonetheless, CACEO hopes this will be a model for much-needed and overdue safety standards code enforcement officers. Protect the protectors, so they can protect communities. It’s about time.
About the Author
Matthew Silver is a partner with Silver & Wright LLP, a law firm specializing in code enforcement, receiverships, land use, zoning and municipal defense. Matt is also a Certified Code Enforcement Officer and serves as 2nd Vice President and Legislative Director for the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers.