At the Magnolia Trace Apartments in Florence, S.C., crime had gotten out of hand. So the building's property manager, Monica Willis-Jackson, a former police officer and part owner of the complex, took a drastic step. She furnished an unused unit and donated it to the Florence Police Department’s Community Action Team (CAT) to use as an office. And just so the troublemakers congregating on the property knew it was police, Jackson painted the door blue and had a barbeque to welcome the new neighbors.
So far, the results have been good. Police say that within two weeks, gang problems had been cleaned up. “There’s less gang activity and older people have said they can sit outside after 11 p.m. now,” Willis-Jackson says. “They’ve never done that before. There are more kids outside. Years ago, parents wouldn’t allow kids outside because they have to worry about people shooting.”
The department got something out of it, too. It got a location to house some of its officers hired with its Community Oriented Policing Services grant from the federal government. “It’s a resource for the officer to go in and interview suspects or victims or do reports,” says Allen Heidler, deputy chief of Florence. “It’s there for the officer who works that entire geographical area. It’s a base for them to come to.”
Florence isn’t the only city seeing police departments, fed up with crime at apartment communities, have moved in. When gang activity boiled over recently and resulted in a police shooting at the Walnut Creek Apartments in East Austin, Texas, the Austin Police Department parked its mobile command station at the property.
“We moved the command post in a for a two-week period of time, took a zero tolerance approach to any violations at the complex, worked with management at the complex to put several security measures in place to enhance the safety and security,” says Sgt. Robert Jones in central bureau support for the Austin Police Department. “Once we put that in place, after two weeks, we noticed a huge improvement. After that, we went into a maintenance operation. We continue to work with management to this day trying to affect positive change.”
When the command center was pulled away, crime ticked up, but Jones says it hasn’t approached the levels before the command unit moved in. “The vehicle is for command and control and for officer presence to put people on notice that if you’re coming in to commit crime, we’re going to be on scene and we will hold you accountable for that,” he says.