Tuesday, July 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cops, property owners team up

Leader staff writer

To reduce crime at apartments, duplexes and rental houses in Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Police Department is holding training sessions for the Crime Free Multi-Housing program. After completing training, property managers become individually certified.

The program was started in 1992 in Mesa, Ariz. It has three parts. The first is an eight-hour training session for rental property management staff and maintenance workers.

For the second part, police officers to go out to the multifamily units and survey the security and crime prevention measures at the complex.

For the final part, the management holds a social gathering for residents to build community awareness, similar to a neighborhood watch block party.

After completion of the three phases, the property will be certified and property owners can post signs that the complex is part of the Crime Free Multi-Housing program.

Twenty-five rental property office personnel and maintenance workers attended Jacksonville Police’s first session on Thursday.

The group included managers and employees from the Chapel Ridge, Timberwood, Willow Bend, Lakeside Estates, Cross Keys, Eastfield and Jacksonville Housing Authority apartments and landlords who own several rental houses in the city.

Property owner Bart Gray said, “It is a reason that brings all of us together. We have many units here that represent the community. It takes a common approach to make a community. That is good for Jacksonville and our apartment neighbors.”

Lt. Brett Hibbs, who led the class, said Tammie Hester, district manager of Willow Bend Apartments brought the Crime Free Multi-Housing program to the attention of the police department.

“She told me about the program. Hester had rental property certified in Florida and thought it would be a good idea to do it here,” Hibbs said.

The only expense for the police department is the Crime Free Multi-Housing program signs that are placed on the rental properties after they are certified.

LaRhonda Collins, community manager for Willow Bend Apartments, said, “Everybody should be able to live in a community where kids can play outside.”

She noted that the 100-unit complex hires off-duty police officers five days a week.

Collins said Willow Bend’s staff is actively weeding out people who haven’t been paying rent, breaking lease agreements and dealing in illegal drugs.

Jaime Levecchia is agent-in-charge for Timberwood Apartments and oversees 56 units. She said she wants to clean up the crime at the apartment units, but has a hard time getting people out.

Many of the apartment and car break-ins are caused by the guests residents have over, Levecchia noted. “The police department comes by the office almost every week. I want to be pro-active and have a nice area for people to want to live there. I want a calm, crime-free property,” she said.

The Crime Free Multi-Housing program simply means crime will not be tolerated at the units and law-breaking tenants will be evicted.


One way to deter criminal activity at rental property is to stop it before it occurs, according to the program.

Apartment managers can interview the applicants, do a thorough background check, look into the applicants’ rental and criminal history. They can ask for two forms of ID, one with a photo, when people fill out applications and even attach a crime-free addendum to the applications that must be signed. It is easier to turn down applicants during the screening process than to evict them later, according to the program.

Rental property owners can also limit crime by keeping the property cared for. They can repair broken windows, remove graffiti and trim trees and bushes that can create hiding spots for criminals.

Use lighting that is directed and allows for a person to seen 100 feet away, the program states. Install metal fencing instead of wood fencing, which blocks the view and gives criminals a place to hide.

The program states that installing cameras that work, mirrors and closed-circuit TV and limiting access with gates and thorny bushes can increase security.

The program recommends installing peepholes in doors and deadbolt locks that fully extend the bolt into the jamb. The bolt should be at 1-inch. Three-inch screws should be used when installing door striker plates. Door jamb guards can provide extra strength and security. Windows need to have locks, anti-lift and anti-slide devices.

Neighborhood watches, courtesy patrol officers and hiring off-duty officers can deter crime, according to the program. Management can set curfews, require vehicle parking permits and resident ID cards too.

Things managers should watch out for include a chemical or marijuana smell in apartments, residents changing the locks or adding more, closed blinds, covered windows, renters who are reluctant to allow maintenance workers inside, drug residue on counters and tables, large amounts of baking soda, Sudafed, plastic baggies with the corners removed or very small green or blue Ziplock baggies.

The police can make an arrest, but they cannot evict someone. Only the landlord or apartment manager can do that.