The housing authority’s Limited Access and Barring Policy is again in effect after a hiatus. Last week the Thomson City Council adopted the policy, which has also been adopted by the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners. “People need to understand that if we tell you to leave and not to come back, we mean leave and not come back,” said Kelly Evans, executive director of East Georgia Housing Authority Partners. Evans said most housing authorities in the state of Georgia have a barring policy that is part of their lease process. It goes in with the resident packet and when they sign their lease they also sign the acknowledgment that there is a barring policy and that the housing authority will use the barring policy. When Evans arrived at the housing authority in 2009, the policy was already in place. Actually, the policy was in place at all four properties — Thomson, Warrenton, Crawfordville, and Harlem. “It basically says if you are committing any kind of disruption on property that we reserve the right to bar you,” Evans explained. Former Police Chief Anson Evans did not want his officers to assist with the barring policy, according to discussion in the city council. Kelly Evans said the same. “Part of our barring policy is that it is served by the police department. That is typically because they are the people that are executing the barring and do it at the time of the disturbance,” said Kelly Evans. She said the chief had some concerns and they talked about it, so the policy was suspended for a while in Thomson. It however did remain in effect at the other housing authority properties in Crawfordville, Harlem and Warrenton. “We sat down and had a meeting and it was one of the things that I brought up to him and he had some concerns about the liability of the officers in having to serve a barring notice. So, I deferred to his judgment at the time, as I would any chief,” she said. Evans said the chief’s solution was community policing. “I don’t disagree with that. I do think there are aspects of community policing that take care of that, but the police department has to be well staffed and well funded to have the time to be able to be on property and develop those relationships,” she said. Then COVID hit and she said it is hard for officers to spend face-to-face time meeting new people to build relationships during the pandemic. But, now has come time for barring to return according to Evans. “What we found was that if we don’t use it, we have a really hard time getting people to leave the property and stay gone,” she said. According to the policy, which is available on the housing authority’s website, persons can be barred for an assortment of illegal activities such as assault, arson, robbery, vandalism, illegal gambling, harassment, illegal drug possession and distribution, unlawful possession or concealment of a firearm, urinating in public, gang-related activity and more. The barring policy covers not only ones involved in such criminal activity on housing authority property but also within a one-mile radius of the property. “The reason the mile provision is in there is that goes back to President Clinton passed an executive order under our one strike you’re out drug policy,” she said. “For example, if there is drug activity on property and somebody runs and the police catch them just outside the property line,” she explained. “That keeps people from being able to step over on private property and say ‘I wasn’t on property’.” It’s under civil law so they do not have to be found guilty, Evans stated. “Under civil law we have the right to basically tell somebody that they are not welcomed there, unless they have a lease. If they have a lease, it’s different,” she said. “If they are barred, they have a right to due process.” The appeal would go to Evans in an administrative hearing. She can either uphold it, amend it, or overturn it. “I have not overturned a barring notice ever,” she said. “What I have done previously is I have amended a barring notice after a time period.” An example she shared was that of a man who had been barred previously. His mother, a resident, was sick. So, Evans amended the barring notice to allow him specific times he could visit his mother. In another case, an individual was barred previously and later wanted the barring notice removed. He authorized Evans to check his criminal history. There had been nothing in the criminal history in five years, so Evans allowed him back on property. “Most of our barring notices are written indefinitely and cover all of the properties in the city in which it is written,” she said. If there is an issue with a resident, that is a different situation according to Evans. “Residents fall under a different set of rights. So, if you are on the lease it falls under the Georgia Landlord Tennant Handbook and there is a process,” she said. She shared the example of an adult child that is on the lease and gets into trouble at housing authority property. The head of the household could remove that child from the lease or the housing authority could move for eviction on the entire household. “We have had that happen before where someone in their early 20s was still living at home and got into trouble on property and we gave the parent the option to have them come off the lease and move out versus having to evict the whole household,” she said. The housing director said the return to the barring policy is good for police as well as the community. Now they will have a mechanism to keep people off the property when barred or they can be arrested. “It helps the officers to be able to have some teeth to be able to get people off property and keep them off property. Once that’s in place, we don’t see a lot of trouble,” Evans said. “When people start figuring out that if an officer tells you to leave and gives you a barring notice that if you come back you are going to jail, they get gone.” “It keeps the calls for service down. It’s important because every time an officer responds that’s a call for service. That’s a call where they can’t respond to something else,” she said.
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