Chip Denman tough code enforcer

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 22, 2001

Vicksburg Police Lt. Chip Denman puts a tow sticker on a vehicle in Cedar Estates. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

[01/22/01] Vicksburg Police Lt. Chip Denman isn’t just talking trash. He’s a man on a mission.

Denman along, with Patrolman Dan King, is assigned to the department’s Code Enforcement division, which enforces city and state ordinances such as abandoned vehicles or illegal dump sites.

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“I take this very seriously because this city is our home, where our children live, and it is a quality of life issue,” Denman said.

Four months ago, Denman, an eight-year veteran of the force, took over as head of Code Enforcement, replacing Lt. Roosevelt Bunch.

Denman, who once headed up the department’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team, said he strongly believes the work he does is community policing at its best.

“We go from door to door and talk to people about the problems in their neighborhood,” Denman said. “The only way to solve the problems we have is to work with the owners of the homes or businesses.”

King and Denman start their day around 7:30 a.m., and during the next eight or nine hours canvass the city looking for violations.

One day may find them dealing with refrigerators lying in a front yard, and the next they are trying to determine who is using an illegal dump site.

The first few months after joining Code Enforcement, Denman said, one of the biggest problems he faced was abandoned vehicles.

“Every area is different and we have to go in and determine what the problem is,” Denman said.

Since September, 402 citations have been issued and 769 abandoned vehicles were cited or moved, Denman said.

Illegal dump sites, like one on Pearl Street that Denman and King have worked on for the past week, are one of the worst eyesores and can be the hardest to end, Denman said.

“The idea is to break the chain because people have been dumping stuff somewhere for 50 years and now you are telling them that they can’t,” he said. “Some of the problem is they have been getting by with it for so long, so we are talking about years and years of neglect.”

King, a 12-year veteran of the streets, said his two-week-old assignment is quite a switch from pounding a beat.

“Being a patrol officer for 12 years you are running from call to call and you don’t even realize how much stuff is around people’s houses that shouldn’t be,” King said.

Both men agree that the job they are doing now leaves them with a sense of accomplishment.

“Working the streets you sometimes feel like you are drowning going from problem to problem,” King said. “This really allows you to see a difference from day to day.”

Denman said he considers the work he and King perform an integral part of the police department. “This may not be a drug bust or a murder, but to the people who live in these areas it is important to them.”

Denman added that cleaning up an area can serve to deter other crimes.

“If you have a particular place with a lot of violations that could be where drug dealing is going on,” he said.

When an abandoned car or litter is found in someone’s yard, Denman and King leave a letter letting the owner know they have anywhere from seven to 30 days to take care of the problem.

After the allotted time, the person must appear in court and tell the judge they have taken care of the problem or a reason why they haven’t. If the problem has been resolved the citation is usually dismissed and no fine is owed, Denman said.

Any cars that are towed by the city are taken to Steven’s Service Center, and the owner must pay $45 plus $15 per day to retrieve their automobile.

In the end, Denman said, he doesn’t see himself as a litter vigilante, but as an educator.

“I think for most people it is just a lack of knowledge about the law, so I want to motivate people to understand, it is like an educational process,” he said.