- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Prince George’s County will evict tenants and demolish apartment complexes only as a last resort to stopping crime, county spokesman Jim Keary said yesterday.

Earlier this year, County Executive Jack B. Johnson vowed to use the power of eminent domain to “tear down” problem complexes.

“Eminent domain is a last-ditch effort,” Mr. Keary said.

The county has struggled lately to control escalating crime, including carjackings and 43 homicides this year.

Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said most of the crimes can be traced to about 20 complexes inside the Capital Beltway, including many near the D.C. border.

He also said that about one in every 20 police calls comes from the complexes and that management companies face losing occupancy licenses if they fail to improve security and take other steps to reduce crime.

The companies said Mr. Johnson’s plan targets law-abiding tenants.

“The real issue is, [Mr. Johnson] is blaming residents,” said Ron Frank, president of the Southern Management Corp. in Vienna, Va. “He’s blaming victims.”

Mr. Frank, whose company owns a complex in the troubled area, said yesterday that the county has too few police officers, despite increasing fees 17 years ago on apartment licenses to pay for recruitment of officers.

The company filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Beltsville. The suit asks the court to order police to provide more adequate protection, accuses Mr. Johnson of making “false and public statements” and seeks $6 million in damages.

County officials said they are trying to meet with apartments owners and managers to resolve the problems and want the state to issue special bonds to help owners clean up the apartments. The officials also said they are looking for money to help move residents from problem apartments.

“I was very specific and clear that this program is not designed to move law-abiding citizens out of their homes,” Mr. Johnson said. “I said environments that cultivate crime will not be tolerated. I said I will work with owners to clean up these facilities.”

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