Columbia County sheriff's officials say calls from some apartment complexes are straining their resources, requiring more time policing those areas than in surrounding neighborhoods.
The issue was brought up a year ago by Sheriff Clay Whittle during the county's budget process, when he told the county commission that calls from some apartment complexes were creating a burden on his office. A year later, police say the 11 percent increase in their budget, approved this month, is in part a result of such calls.
In the past year, deputies responded to several violent incidents at the complexes. They included the arrest of several men in a fight in which a rifle, brass knuckles, a bulletproof vest and a baseball bat were found at Wedgewood Park Apartments on Nov. 19; the arrest of two people in a burglary at Wedgewood Park on April 25; the report of a 20-year-old man saying he had been assaulted by several men and robbed of his cell phone and car at Westwood Club Apartments on June 20; and a couple reporting gunshots being fired at them at Westwood Club on May 2.
"It has been statistically demonstrated that some of our multihousing communities are responsible for a disproportionate share of police calls for service," sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said. Deputies answer calls or are present on officer-initiated patrols in some complexes daily, and sometimes more than once a day.
The number of apartment residents causing problems is small, he said, but "generally speaking, it's 10 percent of the population causing 90 percent of the problems.''
The sheriff's office reports that through June 29 this year, deputies answered the highest number of calls from the public - 133 - at the 200-unit Wedgewood Park Apartments on Old Evans Road. The second-most calls - 118 - came from the 284-unit Ridge Crossing Apartments off Belair Road, followed by 80 calls to the 192-unit Westwood Club Apartments on Washington Road and 68 calls to the 56-unit Applecross Apartments on Washington Road.
These figures don't include officer-initiated visits, which are the result of follow-ups to previous incidents, an officer noticing a suspicious situation and/or requests for an officer to make an additional patrol.
Deputies have initiated 150 visits to Wedgewood Park, 99 to Westwood Club, 70 to Ridge Crossing and 115 to Applecross this year, according to sheriff's records.
A vast majority of the calls were not the result of violent offenses but were related to civil matters such as nuisance complaints and property crimes.
Still, Morris said, the high number of calls puts a strain on sheriff's office staff. Far fewer calls were to housing neighborhoods.
"In some cases there's no comparison," Morris said. "We have some areas in Columbia County that are virtually crime-free, whereas we have other pockets ... that are causing headaches."
At Wedgewood Park, incidents this year include: an aggravated assault with a knife, a burglary, three attempted burglaries, three family violence calls and 21 domestic violence calls.
Police recorded seven domestic violence calls, one sexual offense, one auto theft and one attempted burglary at Westwood Club .
Incidents at Ridge Crossing include two burglaries, two attempted burglaries, a battery and nine domestic violence calls.
At Applecross Apartments, deputies responded to four attempted burglaries, an auto theft and 12 domestic violence calls.
"In some of these locations, these aren't just simple, run-of-the-mill calls like trouble with a neighbor or a barking dog," Morris said. "There are some violent offenses occurring in some of these areas. It is troubling."
Cliff Channell is CEO of Channell Realty, the managing company of Applecross. He said he takes steps to reduce crime at his facility but can't prevent all criminal activity.
"We don't want one bad apple causing four tenants to move. There is no way we can control the actions of a tenant," he said.
He refers nuisance and criminal complaints to the sheriff's office and has asked for active patrols. He said he evicts any tenant who commits serious offenses.
Applecross is not a low-income housing facility, Channel said.
Keith Hadlock, the president of the Applecross Homeowners' Association, which represents the 94-home subdivision behind Applecross Apartments, said crime has trickled into his neighborhood. His association has begun a neighborhood watch and would like to have its community gated.
Arnie Rodriguez, a senior administrator for Ridge Crossing, said his complex also is working with deputies to curtail crime.
Ridge Crossing is a member of the sheriff's Crime-Free Community initiative, Morris said. As part of the program, Ridge Crossing added lights, requires criminal-background checks of prospective tenants, made security systems available and put a curfew on teenagers unaccompanied by adults, Rodriguez said. Teens have been responsible for most crimes, he said.
Ridge Crossing, he said, does not provide low-income housing.
A manager at Wedgewood Park said no one from the complex could comment about apartment crime.
A manager at Westwood Club declined to comment about crime before receiving permission from her superiors, but she said her complex does not qualify as a Section 8 Housing and Urban Development facility.
Both Wedgewood Park and Westwood Club require tenants to earn less than a designated income level that is dependent on the number of people in a household.
Not as taxing
2006 sheriff's records through June 29 show that two of the county's largest complexes, the 272-unit Shenandoah Ridge Apartments on Blue Ridge Drive and the 266-unit Walden Glen Apartments on North Belair Road, registered only 39 and 38 calls, respectively. Officers made 104 initiated visits to Walden Glen and 42 to Shenandoah Ridge, according to sheriff's records.
Police recorded two auto thefts and four domestic violence incidents at Walden Glen and one attempted burglary at Shenandoah Ridge.
Danielle Mitchell, a community manager at Walden Glen, said her complex features security systems, requires applicants to submit to criminal-background checks, documents tenants' and visitors' vehicles entering the complex and has an on-site courtesy officer - a sheriff's deputy with a patrol car.
"We stringently check our applicants," she said. "We don't just let anybody in here."
Applicants' monthly salary must be more than three times their monthly rent to qualify, Mitchell said.
A representative for Shenandoah Ridge declined to comment about crime before receiving permission from superiors.
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