MHN Interview: Crime Free Programs for Multifamily

4 min read

Crime Free programs consist of three phases

Tim Zehring

Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

First developed at the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department in 1992, Crime Free Programs have since spread to about 2,000 cities in 44 states, as well as Canada, Mexico, the UK, Japan, Finland and other countries. Its goal is straightforward: to keep illegal activity off of rental property, including all forms of multifamily housing.

But how? The Crime Free programs consist of three phases completed under the supervision of local law enforcement, the goal of which is to cement a working relationship between law enforcement, property management, and residents to eliminate the conditions that allow crime to flourish at rental properties.

Property owners and managers who take part in the program make a commitment to learn and apply the Crime Free program to the task of discouraging criminal activity on their property.

Recently, MHN spoke with Tim Zehring, who originally created the program as an officer of the Mesa Police Department. Currently he is executive director of the Higley, Ariz.-based International Crime Free Association, which includes the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.

MHN: What’s the scope of Crime Free?

Zehring: Crime Free has trained tens of thousands of police officers who have taken the program back to their departments, who have in turn trained hundreds of thousands of property managers in the Crime Free program. All that effort is getting results. Nationally we’re showing about an 80 percent reduction in crime in the worst properties. Even in the best properties, there is a 20 or 30 percent drop in crime after the successful adoption of Crime Free.

MHN: How do multifamily owners and managers benefit from the program?

Zehring: Besides reduction in crime, which by itself is a worthwhile goal, properties also become more competitive in attracting tenants. Properties that are members of Crime Free often attract tenants–law-abiding tenants–from properties more afflicted by crime. As that happens, rents and property values go up, and there’s also the bonus for the owner of saving money on insurance. Insurance companies now recognize the difference Crime Free makes for a property, and price their coverage accordingly.

MHN: How did you come to create Crime Free?

Zehring: As a police officer, I saw the same things again and again–namely, a lack of trust and cooperation between police and property management. That’s a recipe for criminal activity. I created the Crime Free Program to build cooperation between police, property management and residents.

MHN: What’s the part of the police in the program?

Zehring: Property managers consistently say that they want three things before they’ll trust the police department, and the program helps the police offer them to property managers. One is increased contact from the police department, as in an officer stopping by, introducing himself, explaining his beat, leaving his cell phone number and so forth.

Secondly, they wanted to see visible improvements in patrols, not just police cars drive by with the windows up and the air-conditioner blasting. They want to see officers walking the property, pursuing problem-oriented policing, just basically being more proactive. Finally, they want shared information. Manages can’t deal with the problems if they don’t know what the problems are–give us the case numbers, the police reports, they ask.

When a property joins Crime Free, the police inform the manager, usually by e-mail, of every police visit that comes to the property to let them know the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ of the visit.

MHN: What about the part of the property managers and residents?

Zehring: I sit down with property managers and tell them that trust is a two-way street. Police need to see exactly the same things from property managers that the managers want from the police. First: Increased contact. Property managers need to come to our classes, meet our officers, learn about Crime Free. We don’t want to hear that they don’t have time for it.

Second: police want to see visit improvements in the property. We don’t want to see beer cans, broken windows, graffiti, or any of the other things that say that management doesn’t care about the property, and which are welcome mats for criminals. Finally, we want contact with property managers; we want them to call us and follow up about the information we provide.

When we have that kind of trust between police and property managers, it’s great. But there’s more to it. The residents need to be involved as well. After the police and property management do the training and networking, we hold a meeting with the residents. We train the residents to be good eyes and ears, and we explain that Crime Free means you need to be crime free while living in the apartment. Don’t do it here–renting in this property means singing a contract to be crime free. If you violate it, you’re out.

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