Safety in Numbers: Building a Community Watch Program

By Schindler, Martha | Journal of Property Management, March-April 1994 | Go to article overview

Safety in Numbers: Building a Community Watch Program


Schindler, Martha, Journal of Property Management


Remember Sgt. Joe Friday?

Back when he cruised the city's streets, the line between the police department and the general populace was clear and impenetrable.

"This is police business, ma'am. Just the facts."

Back then, the nation's crime statistics were a far cry from what they are today. The police could be counted on to handle crime--without any help from the general populace.

But, unfortunately, crime today is a bigger problem for everybody. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that a violent crime is committed somewhere in the country every 17 seconds. Every 21 minutes, a murder occurs; every 5 minutes, a rape. And the most prevalent crimes--vandalism, theft, and other crimes against property--take place every 2 seconds.

In this climate, many property owners and managers are embracing the idea of neighborhood watches and other community-based efforts as a necessary component in the fight against crime and all of its ramifications. Indeed, as managers face the myriad effects of crime--costly physical repairs, rising vacancies, declining property image, and even lawsuits stemming from crime-related injuries on their properties--the simple idea of joining forces with the police and the tenant community to combat crime takes on very real, bottom-line importance.

Community watch programs are springing up at all types of properties--with all types of security problems. For example, management at the Forest Ridge Apartments in Winston-Salem, N.C., joined forces with local police to put a stop to the drug dealing and vandalism that had plagued the property.

And in Tacoma, Wash., management at the Tacoma Mall initiated a mall watch program that encourages tenants, local police, community groups, and shoppers to join in an ongoing effort to counteract social and criminal problems in the area.

At these and many other properties, managers have taken the common idea of joint police/community efforts and initiated custom-made programs that address their property's--and the surrounding community's--own unique circumstances.

To encourage further such efforts, the Institute of Real Estate Management has launched a new program aimed at helping its members use community watch-style programs on their properties. The program is called SMART Partners--which stands for Safety Management Alliance of Residents and Tenants. The new initiative will be launched by local seminars sponsored by IREM.

These seminars will feature local speakers and real estate managers who will emphasize practical, easily implemented actions that residents and tenants can make to improve their personal safety. Participants at these seminars will receive a book-length publication from IREM that outlines various programs that managers of tenants can implement to enhance safety or deepen a sense of community.

In order to immediately implement the program at their properties, managers will receive a start-up kit. This kit will include a guide to establishing a community watch program at any type of property; decals and stand-up cards to display showing their participation will also be included. One of the most useful features of the kit will be a comprehensive list of safety tips geared separately to multifamily sites, office buildings, and shopping centers.

The goal of this program is to let more managers know what some have already learned through experience--community watch programs work.

A new face on an old problem

Of course, property managers have been fighting crime for years, and the concept of increasing security in response to changes in crime patterns is hardly new. A traditional first step, and still a good one, is an inspection of the physical property itself: areas that often could use an upgrade include lighting, access points locks and lock control, and security equipment.

Unfortunately, however, these measures alone have proven ineffective in stopping the newer brands of crime that plague many properties today: gang activity, drugs, and sophisticated car-theft networks. …

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