The Norman Transcript

April 29, 2013

New Crime Free program changing atmosphere of city apt. complexes

By Carol Cole-Frowe
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A new crime-fighting program sponsored by the Norman Police Department is giving apartment and rental managers a new tool to deal with crime and increase personal safety of tenants.

Crime Free Norman is described on its website as a “state-of-the-art, crime prevention program designed to reduce crime, drugs and gangs on apartment properties.” Several Norman apartment complexes are working toward becoming certified in the program.

The three-phase program is law-enforcement sponsored and partners with property managers and landlords. At the heart of the program is a lease addendum that new or renewing tenants sign acknowledging that management can evict them with 24-hour notice if there are signs of drugs, prostitution, assault or other criminal behavior.

“It’s an amazing program that’s had a huge, positive effect on our complex,” said Cynthia Richmond, manager of Vicksburg Village in southeast Norman, a HUD Section 8, low-income apartment complex. Richmond said 100 percent of her tenants have signed the lease addendum.

The program launched in Norman in October 2012 on a yearlong trial basis, said Capt. Tom Easley, NPD spokesman.

“It was aimed at providing (apartment managers) with a lot of information about what’s required and also gives them information about environmental design and how to reduce crime by engineering your property correctly,” Easley said, who noted that possession of drug paraphernalia is a crime.

“It’s how do you write your leases,” he said, about the 24-hour eviction notices. “If a tenant has signed off on it, then it’s covered. It’s merely a preponderance of evidence.”

According to the association’s website, crime-free-association.org, the program is being used internationally in 2,000 cities in 44 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces, Mexico, England, Finland, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Puerto Rico.

“Particularly the Canadians are really good at it,” Easley said.

Norman’s Crime Free multi-housing coordinator is Master Police Officer Teddy Wilson, who went through a 24-hour training session to become a program instructor. When the NPD started considering implementing it, they approached several apartment managers.

“Right now, the idea is to try it on a voluntary basis,” Easley said.

He said management from 13 complexes attended the first phase that’s an eight-hour class taught by the NPD. The class includes instruction on crime prevention theory; benefits of resident screening; lease agreements and eviction issues; prevention of gangs, drug activity and other activity; and working smarter with police, fire and life safety training. A 100-page manual is supplied to participants.

The second phase of Crime Free is the NPD’s Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Survey, or CPTED, of participating complexes. The police evaluate minimum door, window and lock standards and exterior lighting and landscape maintenance standards.

“We don’t take their word for it, we go and look,” Easley said.

Several of the environmental actions are easy, like trimming shrubs and trees up from the ground to eliminate possible hiding places. Others, like improving lighting or strengthening door jams, require an investment on management’s part.

Community awareness is the goal of the third phase, with an annual cookout or other social outreach to residents to educate them about Crime Free with property management and police participation.

When the apartment management has completed all three phases, they are allowed to display the Crime Free logo and signage on properties.

Easley said while several apartment complexes are going through the process, none are certified yet, although some are getting close, including Vicksburg Village, Turnberry Apartments and Presidential Gardens.

Richmond said when they first began implementing the Crime Free program, about half of her Vicksburg Village tenants were excited and half were upset.

“Most people here are scared of the police,” she said, “but it’s done wonders. It’s a pretty calm property now.”

She said because Vicksburg Village is a Section 8 property, it was relatively easy to include the Crime Free lease addendum in their leases.

“We started immediately. We go month-to-month after the first 12 months (lease). So we went ahead and added it,” Richmond said. “It was fairly easy to transition into it.”

Margie Harshaw, of Destination Management, manages more than 300 units in Norman, including Warehouse Flats, Tuscan Village (formerly Sunrise Ridge), Dutch Hollow, West Oaks and Chateau Normandy.

Harshaw said they intend for all of their apartments to become Crime Free Norman-certified.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” she said. Her investors, including her son, Sean Harshaw, have justified investing in the rehabilitation of several aging Norman apartment complexes partially with use of Crime Free techniques and the lease addendum.

Easley said when the year trial period is up, the program could be continued on a voluntary basis, it could be discontinued or the city could write an ordinance to make it citywide.

For more information about Crime Free Norman, contact the Norman Police Department.

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