Lakewood city councilman Dan O'Malley is set to introduce an ordinance at Monday's city council meeting that would eliminate domestic violence from the list of qualified nuisance activities in the city. If passed, it would strip a particularly troubling aspect of a generally troubling law.
Twenty-one Northeast Ohio cities have Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinances on their books. They are, by definition and practice, pretty broad, which means that for every intention of, say, shutting down a drug house, they also became a magnet for thinly veiled racism, as well as a tool cities can use to force out renters and those with subsidized housing vouchers. Lakewood is currently one of five cities that include domestic violence in their CANOs.
Domestic violence is already an underreported crime, and the possibility of losing housing or being fined creates an additional reason for victims to not call 911. For those that do call 911 to report domestic violence in Lakewood, it counts as a nuisance activity, logged by the city's law department, which can lead to fines and evictions.
As for the timing of the proposed ordinance, O'Malley says conversations stemming from a recent report from Cleveland State University
, a vital and troubling study that found nuisance laws unduly punish victims of domestic violence, minorities, renters, and those struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, were a driving force.
"A few months ago there was a string of publicity around our law and its inclusion of domestic violence as a nuisance activity," he says. "While those cases are complicated, I still felt a potential victim could come away believing they might have to choose between seeking protection and avoiding eviction. I would never want to put someone in that position. It makes sense to do away with this part of the law. I am also proposing we eliminate menacing and stalking from the list of nuisance activities as well."
Marissa Pappas, one of the study's authors, notes Lakewood would be the 8th city in Cuyahoga County to remove domestic violence from its CANO since 2016.
O'Malley says Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers has voiced his support. Once introduced, the ordinance will be referred to council's Public Safety Committee for further consideration.
As for the rest of the city's current nuisance ordinance, O'Malley says that it may be time to explore how else it could be changed to protect innocent victims.
"I wouldn't support doing away with the nuisance law altogether," he says. "It has proven worthwhile in many areas. But this may be a good time to take up a review of the law to see where else we may be able to improve."