Codes of conduct

Everybody agrees Neighborhood Watch is a good program, right? It trains residents on how to be on the lookout for possible criminal activity and report it to the police. It makes neighborhoods safer and law enforcement’s job easier.

If Neighborhood Watch is so popular, why the outcry against the city of Chico’s plan to establish a pilot program in which citizen volunteers would assist with code enforcement? Code violations may not be criminal in the way, say, burglary is, but they are illegal and do contribute to neighborhood blight. Why not involve residents in cleaning up neighborhoods?

City officials admit their Code Enforcement staff is too small to do much more than respond to complaints. That means nobody is going out and actively looking for violations. The proposal is to train small groups of volunteers to be able to recognize code violations and report them to the city.

Worry-warts have conjured up images of people snooping in yards and peering over fences. They also fret that some folks could use the reporting system to get back at people they don’t like.

Neither scenario is likely. The volunteers will be authorized to report on only what they see from the street or other public right-of-way, and they will not be involved in surveying their immediate neighbors, but rather properties several blocks away, to avoid possible neighbor-to-neighbor recrimination. Plus, trained city staffers will analyze their reports and decide which merit follow-up action.

At a time when the city does not have the money to beef up code enforcement, this program—let’s call it Neighborhood Code Watch—seems like a good idea.