Commander Anson Shells
Community Relations Division
Community Action Team C.A.T.
The Community Relations Division is comprised of two teams - the Community Action Team, and the Codes Enforcement Team. The Community Action Team or C.A.T.is a specialized group of police officers whose mission is to solve problems that arise in various neighborhoods and business districts in the City of Florence. C.A.T. members attend community meetings and events where they gather information about particular areas and the special needs of those areas.
Community concerns are either directly addressed by the team or they are passed along to the appropriate division of the police department or other City departments to assist in addressing the concerns. The goal is to develop long-term solutions to problems in areas of the city that struggle with specific issues. An example of such a solution would be conducting home and business security surveys to develop strategies to eliminate drug dealing, gang activity, and other criminal activity. To further assist in eliminating or reducing crime in certain areas, the team periodically organizes neighborhood clean-ups.
Additional activities that the C.A.T. officers either participate in or is responsible for include the youth mentoring programs called Camp FEVER and the Florence Police Department’s Physical Education/Mentoring Camp; kids safety programs such as safety talks at various schools and fingerprinting when requested by various organizations, and the child safety seat program.
The C.A.T. team conducts three regular Citizens’ Police Academies and two Advanced Citizens’ Police Academies per year. By working with the Housing Authority of Florence and various businesses, the team has organized back-to-school bashes for neighborhood kids. In addition, the C.A.T. team is instrumental in the success of the Pecan Festival. The ultimate mission of the Community Action Team is to give us our most valuable tool; UNITY with the community that we serve.
Code Enforcement Team
Although fundamentally different from the Community Action Team in its’ responsibilities, the Codes Enforcement Team is just as instrumental in serving the citizens of our neighborhoods. The day-to-day duties of the team are to respond to complaints of city code violations of all kinds whether they are citizen initiated or officer initiated. Such violations include but are not limited to vacant houses and buildings that have been deemed a nuisance, abandoned vehicles, overgrown vacant lots, accumulated trash and debris, dilapidated structures, no water, and signs in the right-of-way. Our team is well trained in spotting violations and are very proactive at attempts to remediate them, either through the Livability Court System or through other acceptable methods. For the purposes of accountability, the City is divided into four code enforcement districts. There are four Code Enforcement Officials, therefore each official is assigned a district which he or she is responsible for. In this way cases can be more readily assigned and managed. Code Enforcement Officials attend community meetings in the city where they hear citizens’ complaints and concerns first hand. By being present, they know exactly how to best address each situation.
City codes exist to protect the appearance, health, and safety of our city. Once a violation is identified, officials may first send the offender a courtesy letter asking the individual to correct the problem within 7 days. If there is no response to the letter, an official notice of violation will be sent giving the offender 15 days to correct the conditions. If the individual complies then the case is closed. If however the offender does not correct the violation after 15 days, a summons will be issued against the offender and he or she will have to appear before a city court judge to answer for the violation.
In the City of Florence, all city code violations are adjudicated in a court known as Livability Court. This branch of City Court addresses livability issues such as accumulated trash or debris, overgrown vacant lots, dilapidated structures, abandoned nuisance houses, abandoned vehicles, no water or electricity, construction without permit, commercial vehicles in residential areas, and zoning violations of all kinds to name a few. Livability Court convenes every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 2:00PM in the courtroom of the City Center located at 324 West Evans Street, Florence SC. The benefits of having a court dedicated to livability issues is that these cases do not lose priority to criminal cases that must also be adjudicated in city court. Also, because the court convenes twice per month rather than once per month, cases are heard sooner, and continuances are shorter than in the past, thus speeding remediation of violations.
The role of Community Relations in Neighborhood Redevelopment
Currently the City of Florence is in the midst of a proactive neighborhood redevelopment initiative in which the Community Relations Division plays a role. Most neighborhood problems are easily resolved through the City’s normal enforcement procedures. Unfortunately however, there are several neighborhoods that are in great disrepair where remediation requires significant commitment. It is in these neighborhoods that more proactive and creative efforts are being made. Realizing that neighborhood redevelopment is crucial to the health and vitality of the entire city, the City of Florence embarked on a mission to redevelop several of our neighborhoods in those areas that are most challenged. Thus in January of 2013, the City adopted a Neighborhood Action Plan that addresses the issues and problems identified in these neighborhoods. Prior to the adoption of the plan, city staff, neighborhood leaders, and members of a neighborhood consulting firm toured the target neighborhoods in an effort to determine where in those neighborhoods our primary focus should begin. Using this guide along with our own knowledge of existing problems, the City began taking steps toward comprehensive redevelopment. In January 2014, the City of Florence officially entered into a service agreement with the neighborhood redevelopment consulting firm ADP Urban Planning and Management to help guide the City through the redevelopment process.
The Community Relations Division plays an important role in redevelopment by first identifying problems such as blight and disrepair that discourage residents from taking pride in their own neighborhoods. In order for redevelopment to be successful, neighborhood pride is an absolute must. It is here that Community Relations identifies derelict conditions and follows through with enforcement all the way to remediation. The division also works either alone or in partnership with other divisions of the City such as the Community Services Division and Planning and Zoning to eliminate neighborhood problems. Currently there are thirty five neighborhood organizations in the City of Florence. While most of these neighborhoods are not located in the target areas they are all important partners in neighborhood redevelopment because each of them has something to contribute by way of success stories, ideas, and even possible resources that can be shared with struggling neighborhoods.
Community-wide involvement is vital to successful neighborhood redevelopment. As such, effective enforcement of code violations and community mobilization are two of the most important functions of the Community Relations Division. Our community outreach includes but is not limited to establishing partnerships with neighborhood organizations, the faith community, civic organizations, businesses, philanthropic organizations, and interested individuals. If you or anyone you know is interested in serving the Florence community through neighborhood redevelopment and revitalization, please let us know by contacting Commander Anson Shells at (843) 665-3191 or (843) 676-8800. You may also contact the City of Florence Community Services Division by calling (843) 665-3175.