How to engage in partnership policing
Partnering with local businesses and community stakeholders should be a key part of a police department’s crime reduction strategy
By Lt. Chris Pantelis, MS, CWVTS
Many of you who have spent any significant time in law enforcement will probably think “community policing” when you read the title of this article. However, community policing is only a small part of partnership policing.
I have spent a little over 15 years in law enforcement in municipal, county and state policing. In 2010, while serving as the crime-free housing officer – a position within a municipal police department’s community policing unit – I discovered game-changing partnerships improving law enforcement operations.
Crime-Free Housing Program initiative
The department I was with at the time had adopted a national program called the Crime-Free Housing Program, which involved forming partnerships with apartment community managers, staff and tenants within our jurisdiction, as well as local business owners.
According to FBI statistics, the majority of residential crimes take place in multi-housing units such as apartment communities, trailer parks and government housing units. Businesses account for another significant portion of areas targeted for crime. The Crime-Free Housing Program used Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts to educate community members and stakeholders on crime trends and crime prevention measures.
Establishing trust with apartment managers and business owners was the first step to making a drastic difference in crime in my community, but not via the standard “unofficial informant” methods.
The value of security surveys and Crime-Free Lease Addendums
By fostering positive relationships with apartment community owners and managers, law enforcement agencies can offer them a reciprocal service.
A CPTED-certified officer can perform security surveys of apartment communities, business and any other structure. This incorporates evaluating things such as lighting; the placement and trim of foliage; types of locks, screws, plates and bolts used on entry doors; and the use of other natural and man-made security measures. The completion of a survey shows a proactive measure by a police department to keep residents safe, and can reduce the liability property managers have if they follow the findings/suggestions the officer provides. This is all good PR and community engagement, but the real utility from a police perspective comes from the next facet of the Crime-Free Housing Program.
This involves suggesting apartment managers incorporate a crime-free lease addendum that allows them to run criminal history checks of residents, mandates those residents report a felony arrest to the managing company, and allows management to share leaseholder information with local law enforcement.
Obviously, apartment managers and the companies they work for are in the business of making money, but with the inherent civil liability that comes when serious crimes are perpetrated on a property, it isn’t too hard to convince most managers of the upside to an addendum. Once this addendum is in place, the designated officer involved in the program runs daily arrest reports in the jurisdiction to look for suspect addresses that coincide with one of the participating properties. The officer then informs management of any arrests that meet the guidelines of violating the crime-free lease addendum and management can initiate the eviction process from there.
If all of your apartment communities in your jurisdiction are enrolled in this program, it effectively pushes the offender out of your city. This displaces crime and effectively reduces crime in your jurisdiction.
As neighboring jurisdictions begin their own Crime-Free Housing Programs, large geographical areas start to show a reduction in crime. A similar approach can be used to partner with local businesses and convince them to require criminal history checks for all current and new employees.
Implementing this program with local hotels and motels was one of the most fruitful things I have done in my career. Since budget hotels and motels in particular are rife with crime, approaching the owner or manager with the “reduction in liability for crimes on his/her property” approach seems to work well. They add an addendum to room rental paperwork that specifies they are allowed to share renter/user information with the police. Couple that with some education on signs of human trafficking, narcotic distribution and other forms of trafficking, and you gain some excellent allies. Before you know it, you have owners and managers willingly and on their own accord providing you with guest logs and vehicle information, and even accurately calling in suspicious activity. This allows you to check for wanted people, stolen vehicles and aliases for known drug dealers/traffickers.
Working with City Code Enforcement and Fire Marshals
The final partnership I discovered is one every law enforcement officer who answers calls or proactively patrols needs to consider.
City code enforcement and your local fire marshal have access to myriad enforceable codes and statutes that sworn personnel do not!
Let’s say you are having difficulty finding probable cause to access a residence where you suspect there are weapons and narcotic activity. However, if there is a balcony that shows evidence of hoarding or has a barbecue grill, or there are multiple cars in a yard, these violations could be part of city code and therefore enforceable by code enforcement. Alternatively, there could be a fire code violation the fire marshal could address.
If you have close relationships with these people, they can provide you with valuable information from their enforcement encounters, often with enough probable cause to get a search warrant.
Further, if the resident refuses to allow the code enforcement officer or fire marshal on their property or to do their job, this gives law enforcement a legal reason to assist and, in many cases, intervene.
Security measures can hinder operations
Implementing security measures and forming partnerships are steps in the right direction, but they are not the final solution to true crime reduction in a community.
The same measures property owners and managers take to keep criminals off a property can also hinder law enforcement operations. Fences used to keep the criminal element out of an apartment complex also limit law enforcement access to entrances/exits. Cameras and lights can be broken, and are costly to keep in good repair. Crime reduction is not an overnight phenomenon brought on by the implementation of security measures; it is a long and collaborative process.
Getting community buy-in and support of law enforcement initiatives is crucial. In communities where criminal activity has almost become an accepted part of life, changing the mentality of community members is necessary if real results are to be achieved. To accomplish this, a community must experience a cultural shift on how it views criminal activity.
Gaining community trust
It is incumbent on law enforcement officers to build trust within their respective communities, and gain community support in law enforcement initiatives. As law enforcement officers, we all know our go-to tools of the trade like traditional informants, undercover work, sting operations and community policing programs; however, the police academy does not teach you about the hidden value in forming partnerships with community stakeholders.
Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all approach since jurisdictions and the powers of different agencies vary greatly. However, the adaptation of a national program such as the Crime-Free Housing Program or even creating a local program of your own is a great start to using non-conventional methods that could yield amazing results.
About the author
Chris Pantelis, MS, CWVTS, is a lieutenant over the Criminal investigations Division (CID) for the Kennesaw State University Police Department in Kennesaw, Georgia.