Keith Hadlock, of Martinez, said he came looking for a way to make his neighborhood a safer place to live.
The homeowner's association president of the 94-unit Applecross subdivision behind Applecross Apartments has said crime trickling in from the apartment complex is a concern.
On Thursday, Hadlock and apartment managers from Wedgewood Park, Petersburg Place and several communities in Richmond County participated in a day-long course designed to raise awareness about the causes of crime in rental communities and proactive ways to deter it.
Star Corporal Tracy Walden, of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, who runs that city's Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program, attended the course and said the greatest deterrents to crime within high-density housing complexes are community action and preventive measures by property owners.
One of the first steps to reducing crime, she said, is building a sense of community within multi-housing developments, where residents are transient and typically don't know their neighbors.
"There's no ownership. People think they don't have a stake in it," Walden said of renters versus homeowners. "They're not paying attention and they don't think there's anything they can do about (crime). Our job is to make them view (complexes) as a community."
In July, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office reported that calls from some multi-family housing developments were putting a strain on department resources. Sheriff Clay Whittle requested and was granted an 11 percent budget increase this year, in part because of the high volume of assistance calls placed from within such communities.
Within a few weeks of a July report in The Columbia County News-Times concerning crime figures and emergency calls from within some of the county's largest rental communities, sheriff's deputies solicited complex managers to attend Thursday's course. Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Kara McGahee, who runs the local program, said the managers were seeking ways to improve their communities.
"They have a desire to create a better living environment and that is our ultimate goal to make everyone feel safe in their communities," she said, adding that currently Ridge Crossing Apartments is the sole member of the county's Crime-Free Multi-Housing program.
Created in Mesa, Ariz., in 1992, the Crime-Free Multi-Housing program requires criminal background checks of potential tenants, improved lighting, various security features within communities and mandates a lease addendum that criminal acts not be tolerated on the property with eviction as a possible punishment.
In return, police notify managers of criminal acts occurring on their properties, participate with managers in yearly "safety socials" to educate residents about crime and help in the community-building process.
Once communities complete a three-part application process, they are eligible to be a crime-free community and are entitled to advertise with the program's logo and place signs throughout the property, which can be a selling point, Walden said. The cost to join depends on possible safety upgrades determined after an evaluation of the property and the cost of criminal background checks.
In Chatham County, about 70 of the more than 130 apartment communities with 40 or more units have enrolled in the program since 1998. Though she didn't have specific figures detailing the drop in apartment crime, Walden said calls in her area have sharply declined.
Some of the worst communities in Chatham County, which would log more than 90 calls per quarter are now down into the single digits, she said. Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said in July that deputies have been called to some complexes dozens of times per month and sometimes more than once per day.
Though Hadlock said most residents within his neighborhood are homeowners, after the program he is considering amendments to covenants to deter crime in the community.
"We have to take pride in our own community and we have to put our foot forward and say the buck stops here," Hadlock said.
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