Domestic Abuse Victims Should Be Able to Freely Dial 9-1-1 for Help, Say Vereb and Stephens
NORRISTOWN – On the heels of a domestic abuse case which threatened to leave a female Norristown abuse victim displaced, Reps. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) and Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) today held a press conference in Montgomery County urging Norristown officials to repeal its nuisance ordinance which ultimately punishes victims of crime.
“While I understand the growing challenges Norristown faces with its rental properties because of some sketchy activities of its tenants, I believe every tenant should have a clear and conscious right to dial 9-1-1 without the threat of eviction looming over their heads,” said Vereb, a steadfast advocate for domestic abuse victims across Pennsylvania. “That being said, the last thing Norristown should be looking to do is bring in more Section 8 housing, which is proposed under the Pennrose project planned for DeKalb and Airy streets. Women living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than women in more affluent neighborhoods.”
“The primary obligation for all levels of government is to protect its citizens,” said Stephens, a former Montgomery County prosecutor. “It is unconscionable to me that any government anywhere would penalize someone who simply called for help to prevent them from being injured or killed.”
This situation has now led to litigation. A suit, filed on Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court, charged Norristown with allowing police to accuse Lakisha Briggs with a “disorderly behavior ordinance” after she called police for a third time on May 23, 2012. Briggs claimed she was threatened with eviction weeks after police officers responded to a domestic violence call from her home in which an abuser chased her down an alley with a brick and attacked her in her home.
In 2008, the Borough of Norristown adopted an ordinance which allowed the municipal administrator to revoke or suspend a rental license for a property after the police have responded to three disorderly behavior calls. The chief of police had the sole discretion to determine whether or not the police responded to a call that was of “disorderly behavior.” This ordinance was in effect from Jan. 5, 2009 to Nov. 7, 2012.
However, the borough council tweaked that ordinance on Nov. 7, 2012m because its members believe it resulted in the deprivation of property rights for tenants without due process, in violation of the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and other federal and state statutes.
The borough’s current nuisance ordinance financially penalizes a landlord when a tenant calls the police three times in a four-month period.This ordinance also gives the chief of police discretion to determine disorderly behavior. The ordinance encourages landlords to include language in their leases that establishes that it is a breach of the lease for a tenant to be convicted for disorderly behavior.
As of last year, approximately 20 percent of Norristown’s homeless population is domestic violence victims, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“In the best of circumstances, victims of domestic violence struggle to find the courage to report abuse and prosecute their offenders. It is unconscionable to me that a municipal government would add to that burden by threatening eviction to a woman simply for calling the police for help,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. “This ordinance makes victims less likely to report abuse and seek help if they know they face eviction for trying to stand up and protect themselves. I believe we in law enforcement have the responsibility to empower victims of domestic violence to report abuse and support them through their efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. Punishing victims who are calling for help is not the way we do business in Montgomery County.”
Representative Mike Vereb
Stephens and Vereb plan to work together to draft legislation in the near future which would prohibit municipalities across Pennsylvania from enforcing nuisance ordinances which threaten to displace victims of crime who contact the police.
Representative Todd Stephens
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Lauren Whetzel
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