Landlords, police unite to fight crime Tenant safety is focus of Baltimore County officers, residents

'It's up to all of us to fix it'

Improved lighting, screenings of renters are part of effort

July 15, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police, landlords and tenants are working together to find ways to improve residents' safety and weed out troublemakers at some of the county's crime-ridden apartment complexes.

Landlords are improving lighting and cutting back shrubs to deter crime. Some employ counselors to help residents with problems.

Residents are reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods and forming patrol groups.

Police have worked closely with property managers on undercover operations to clean out drug dealers at some complexes. They recently sponsored a seminar that drew property managers, landlords and law enforcement officials to help plan cooperative, crime-fighting campaigns.

"If we have a bad tenant, if there's a drug problem, you call the police and expect them to fix it, but really, it's up to all of us to fix it," said Al Williamson, general manager of Sandalwood Co-Op Inc. in Owings Mills.

Williamson, whose development has 384 units, said the three-day seminar made him realize that police officers can't be the only ones responsible for making neighborhoods safer. Property managers are not only concerned with filling vacancies, but also with providing a safe environment for tenants, he said.

"It's a tremendous insight, seeing it from the Police Department's perspective," he said.

Another Westside complex, Liberty Crossing, offers an example of the campaign to quell crime at apartment developments, which sometimes have high turnover rates and extremely transient populations.

When Bill Lee moved into the Randallstown complex 10 years ago, he felt anything but safe.

"You felt like you should carry a gun or wear a bullet-proof vest," recalls Lee, a member of the Baltimore County Auxiliary Police. Two murders occurred there in the past year, police said.

Now, though, the complex is safer, due in part to a cooperative effort between police, landlords and tenants, Lee says.

Since Continental Realty purchased the 589-unit two years ago, several initiatives aimed at improving safety have been implemented.

Managers have instituted more vigilant screening for potential renters, including criminal background checks similar to the ones conducted at the Village of Tall Trees on the Eastside. A no-tolerance policy for tenants who commit crimes or have children who commit crimes recently was adopted and resulted in several tenants being asked to move.

Police have worked closely with management to deal with problems of violence, drug-dealing and juvenile crime.

Recently, Lt. John Spiroff of the Woodlawn Precinct, property manager Chris Devlin and resident manager Genevieve Butler watched from a secret location as officers conducted a sting operation that netted almost a dozen suspected drug dealers.

As the suspected dealers wandered -- usually one by one -- to the rear of the brick complex, an area known for drug sales, officers smoothly rolled in and arrested them without alerting their companions in other areas. The bust was a result of almost a year of investigation, Spiroff said.

"Our best weapon, fortunately, is the community themselves," Spiroff said as he gazed through binoculars watching an arrest. "They are our eyes and ears."

Because of the residents, said Spiroff, officers are able to easily identify the dealers and buyers -- many of them outsiders who don't live in the complex.

Residents such as Wanda Lyons and Darla Carter, who laughingly refer to themselves as "nosy neighbors," keep watch at their building.

"Darla and I live in the same building and she has the front and I have the back," said Lyons, who has lived at the complex for three years. "We know who is supposed to be in the building and who's not."

Meanwhile, Martie Butschky, a resident counselor at Liberty FTC Crossing, has worked with tenants to develop programs such as the newly instituted Citizens on Patrol Group, which held its first meeting last week.

Residents have responded enthusiastically to the different programs, which include Operation Restore Hope, in which local ministers offer counseling, and the Delta Community Outreach and Support Center, which provides mentoring programs for area children.

"We have found that we have to deal with the social problems to get to the root of some of the other problems we have had here," said Butschky. "We have good residents here and every one wants to live in a safe environment."

The recent seminar, which drew 100 law enforcement officials from the East Coast and Midwest and about 150 property owners and managers, also was designed to explore new ways to battle crime.

Law enforcement officials learned how to instruct landlords on keeping drugs and illegal activities out of their complexes by performing more useful screening of prospective tenants. Rental managers and landlords got a better understanding of law enforcement's role and limitations in dealing with tenants.

The seminar, based on a national program developed by Campbell Delong Resources Inc., of Portland, Ore., also covered concepts such as battling crime by environmental design -- improving lighting and trimming shrubs to eliminate hiding places.

Capt. Brian A. Uppercue, commander of the youth and community resources division of the county police, said the seminar helped foster respect between police and landlords -- and would strengthen community policing.

"I think the initial resistance on the part of the landlords is broken down when they see what we are trying to do," said Uppercue, who helped to organize the event. "We all have a stake in eradicating crime."

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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