By James R. Seaman and Steve Paxton
he Everett Police Department initiated the crime-free rental housing effort because police officers responded to the same few rental properties for repeated calls for services, encountering the noise or disturbance complaints, drug activities, and other crimes that directly affect the quality of life in the community. Rarely, however, did the owners or managers of the properties receive notification of the disturbance caused by their tenants. This communication gap between the police department and rental property owners and managers needed to be remedied. The Everett Police Department used information, technology, and education to address crime in rental properties.
Bridging the Communication Gap
The first need was the development of a rental housing database and incident notification system to improve communication in the rental housing community. The rental housing database was created to keep managers and owners informed about the police problems found on their properties. Most of the time, landlords are willing to take action with a problem apartment or tenant if they know that a situation exists. Solutions can range from simply issuing a warning to moving forward with an eviction. If an eviction becomes necessary, it can permanently eliminate an ongoing problem in an apartment community and thereby reduce overall police calls for service. A warning or eviction also has the potential to enhance the quality of life for the neighboring tenants who have been living next to the on-going problems.
To bridge this gap in communication, the Everett Police Department implemented an incident notification system. The system consists of a pocket-size card that officers fill out immediately after a police incident that occurs on rental property.
Information entered on the card includes a case number, date and time of the incident, address and unit number, type of incident, and the officer’s name and personnel number. The card also has an area for officers to leave any other comments that they feel are relevant to the landlord. These cards are then left with the manager at the time of the call or passed along to the department’s crime prevention unit for mailing to the landlord.
The Everett Police Department believes this communication was so important that a policy was enacted requiring officers to fill out an incident card anytime they respond to a criminal incident on rental property. The crime prevention unit keeps track of both the officers that have filled out incident notification cards and the addresses where criminal incidents have occurred. By doing this, the crime prevention unit can follow up with managers and the owners of units where a high percentage of the problems occur for corrective action.
Creating the Database
Initially the crime prevention unit stored the rental property information in an Excel spreadsheet; however, this data filing system soon proved to be ineffective to store critical information about rental units for a city 100,000 resident. It became necessary for a new database to be developed in order to track valuable information and to allow patrol officers and investigators access to detailed information regarding each critical area.
The Everett Police Department researched several different ways to create an effective yet easy-to-use database to store addresses, contact phone numbers, employee names and their pictures, top-down photograph of maps and actual property, and other information that is extremely useful to officers in the field. This database also needed to track recipients of the incident notification cards to allow the department to follow up with a manager of a problem property, if necessary.
The police department assessed commercially available computer programs that could be used to catalogue this information in a secure way; but nothing fit the department’s design requirements. In the end, the department worked with the city’s information technology department to create a network database with a Web page. Easy navigation of the database by the patrol officers and investigators was a priority development task. Since virtually everyone understands how to surf the Internet, a Microsoft Access database with a Web browser interface met this requirement.
The database was built to be accessible to anyone in the police department with log-on credentials via the city network connection. This meant that information contained in the database could be quickly accessed at any hardwired city computer terminal at a library, a fire station, a police station, or another city location. It also meant that it could be potentially accessed over a wireless network.
Creating a Wireless Network
While creating the rental housing database, the department also researched the feasibility of implementing a wireless network throughout the city. According to a survey of Everett patrol officers and sergeants, the average officer loses three to six hours a day traveling back and forth to a precinct to work at a traditional computer terminal. Reducing the amount of connected computer work time would mean more time could be spent in the field. This would increase the resources that could be brought to bear against local criminals and, ultimately, increase safety for police officers due to additional availability of backup during critical incidents.
After extensive research and testing, several hotspots were set up to give officers limited wireless access to the city network from their patrol cars. Increased connectivity and added hotspots are planned to be phased as resources become available.
The wireless network enables officers access to critical information in the field that they would normally have to go to a precinct building to obtain. The wireless network also allows sergeants to have access to the Internet while in the field. With this equipment an officer could perform the following tasks:
• Obtain mug shots using e-mail
• Print police reports to a networked printer
• View law enforcement documents, such as bulletins, on the network servers
• Look up specific policies, procedures, or state and local laws
• Use department e-mail to contact citizens and other officers
• Access Department of Transportation traffic cameras
• Access previous police reports
The system had to have security features to assure that other wireless system networks would not be connect to the police department’s system.
Combining the database with the wireless system has provided officers with more resources to assess the problem locations, find contact information for property managers, identify locations where previous incidents have occurred, and identify tenants with previous complaint records. Officers had the capability to access topdown maps and detail photographs of the rental property layout prior to answering a call for service.
The rental housing database has been a work in progress. Police volunteers and employees work to keep the database up-to-date, remove redundant information by phoning managers and owners for information, sending out update forms by e-mail and regular mail, and obtaining information on the local county records Web site. Volunteers have also been instrumental in going to the each rental property to take photographs and physically verify addresses.
Certification Program for Rental Property Managers
Beyond preparing officers with information about problem properties and improving communications with rental property owners and managers, the police department developed a three-phase certification crime free rental housing program. This program was designed to educate rental property owners and managers on legal issues, physical security and working with the police department for crime free rental housing.
Phase 1—Management Training: The first phase of the program involves a 12-hour training workshop sponsored by the police department. Landlords and their staff are encouraged to attend the 12 hours of training conducted over three days. Among the subjects are landlord-tenant law, the importance of application screening, and fair housing laws. This training program also includes information about how to enhance communication with the police department. The training reinforces the importance of being thorough and consistent in the screening and eviction processes. After completing the workshop each participant receives a certificate for successful completion of the training program. Graduates are encouraged to display their certificate as a symbol of their partnership with the Everett Police Department.
Phase 2—CPTED Inspection: In the second phase of the program, a representative of the police department inspects the rental property to assess the physical security and the general safety of the location. Although the police department evaluates about 100 different aspects of security using the principles of crime prevention through environmental design, several basic requirements must be met to pass this phase. These requirements include having secondary locks on all the doors and windows, 180-degree eye viewers on the doors, adequate lighting, and well trimmed landscaping throughout the property. Once the property passes this inspection, the owner or manager receives as second certificate.
Phase 3—Safety Social: In the third and final phase of this program, the Everett Police Department will help the landlord conduct a safety meeting for the residents at the rental property. This social event is designed to establish a working relationship with the tenants of the apartment community as well as explain the crime free rental housing program and how the residents can be involved in helping establish general safety principals and crime prevention in their community. A third certificate is issued at the safety meeting to demonstrate to the residents that owners and mangers have committed to keeping the property safe.
After completion of all three stages, the rental manager receives permission to post the department’s Crime-Free Rental Housing signs on their property to advertise their participation in the program and to use the crime free rental housing logo in all their advertising.
Once fully certified, the property manager will receive a fourth certificate. This certificate is the only certificate that must be renewed each year. Renewal of the annual certificate requires property managers to hold an annual safety meeting, and the property must pass an annual security check conducted by the police department.
Transferability of the Program
The principles of Everett’s crime-free rental housing program are readily transferable to other communities. Significant steps can be taken to rid rental housing of the criminal element and enhance the quality of life for the community by teaching owners and managers how to maintain crime-free property.
An important key to success is developing and maintaining the needed database information, and then communicating that information to the officers in the field and the rental property owners and managers, for action.