Teen Hybrid Gangs, Growing Trends in Apartment Crime
NAA: Are there strategies specific to Class A apartments versus Class C or D in terms of combating such crime?
BS: I don't like to talk about strategies according to asset class because every crime problem is property-specific and location-specific and, frankly, owner- and management-company specific. The laws are different in every municipality and management companies all have different policies and procedures related to how they address these issues.
NAA: What are the growing trends in apartment crime today?
BS: I think employee dishonesty is a big one, whether it's maintenance or staff that deals with the money. I think that teen hybrid gangs are another problem. Fraudulent credit documents presented at the time of rental application is a huge trend right now, too.
NAA: Some of our readers may not be familiar with that term. What are "teen hybrid gangs?"
BS: Traditional gangs would be the infamous Bloods and the Crips. Hybrids are essentially off-shoots where it is a much smaller, localized set of people doing bad things. It is a gang that may or may not affiliate with a national or international gang. It's a start-up gang. They're especially hard for the police to deal with, because they don't have rules generally that are predictable, which makes them hard for people like me to deal with. Another trend is utility theft, stealing electricity or gas or cable. In certain areas, metals theft is also big. And to take that a step further, R-22 theft which is Freon is also growing. They'll actually go in and take out the refrigerant, evacuate it from the system, and then sell it someplace else.
NAA: Unbelievable. So, how do you fight it all? Increased security personnel? More patrols? Get the residents involved.
BS: How do you fight it? My answer is that you teach awareness and back it up with action. You then engage the residents, empower them with your support so that they become involved with fighting crime. You teach vigilance. That is what my class in Denver is going to do. It's going to provide over 100 solutions and awareness photos of what this stuff looks like. So when a manager sees it or a maintenance person sees it or an owner sees it, they can choose whether or not they do something about it or call the police. A unique thing about my presentations is that they are all photos or videos that I have taken from my 15-year career managing, owning, consulting, and educating from properties all over the country where I've seen crime situations. For the benefit of the community, I've documented it all with photos. We then talk about it in a rapid-fire presentation and allow for Q&A.
NAA: In your view, when does the owner/manager take care of a problem in-house and when is it time to call the police and get them involved?
BS: If anyone ever feels unsafe, they should always call the cops. But what I've learned is that everyone's threshold for "What's safe?" is different. When it doubt, call the cops. But a responsible property manager is going to be engaged with his or her customers. A simple conversation to find out what's happening is usually appropriate.
NAA: What are some specific red flags that operations staff should look for likely indicates drug crime, gang activity, and that kind of stuff?
BS: The basics really do apply. Graffiti is always a red flag. It's probably the biggest red flag. Others include sneakers hanging over utility lines or placed at the back door and persons with "teardrop" tattoos as that can indicate a memorial to the death of a gang member.
But you also want to look at what types of crime are happening. Are you having loitering? Are you having trespassing? Are you having break-ins? Are you having car thefts? Are you having murders? Are you hearing gunshots? The types of crime indicators will generally let you know what you're dealing with and can provide for a prescription to resolve it. Unless you've got a really crime-infested property, most turnarounds can be achieved by removing a small percentage of the population. There is a tendency to want to believe that in some of these apartment communities, everybody is bad. That's just not true! You need to figure out which ones are being the knuckleheads and swiftly get them off your property as legally as possible. And don't worry about the bottom line here because most folks causing the problems either don't live on your property or have delinquent accounts. My theory is you want to have a targeted and tactical approach to resolving the problems. You don't want to throw good money after bad. You don't want to just hire guard companies. Hiring guard companies without a tactical, targeted plan is throwing money away
Drug paraphernalia, as discovered by Brent Sobol, or one of his crime prevention team members.
NAA: Are most security-guard companies willing to adapt what they do and and work within the plans apartment management has set forth?
BS: Some are and some aren't. Just like management companies have different styles, every security provider is going to have a different style. So, it's important that you interview your security companies for compatibility with your crime prevention style.
NAA: Could you give an example of a turnaround success story that you are particularly proud of and tell us how you did it?
BS: I've had so many success stories. I actually keep a book of all the "Thank you!" letters I've gotten over the years, and it motivates me. It's always nice when a neighborhood -- the real estate beyond your property -- feels empowered by what you've done. Ultimately, what drives me are the individual wins. If I can remove a gun from the streets, that saves a life. We've removed 68 guns so far. That's more than many police officers will do in their entire careers. I remember this one couple. They were married, and the husband was a crack user. We got reports of drug use, and we intervened. We did a "knock and talk." We knocked on the door and talked with him, then had a counseling session with him. We didn't arrest him, and he quit his habit as a result. His wife came to me a month or two later and said they'd been married for 20 years, and that since he got off drugs, these had been the best days of their life. When you hear stories like that, it compels you to want to do more. Speaking at conferences and educating others makes me feel good! at these conferences.
NAA: Where do you see your line of work headed in the future? Do you see new techniques, new technologies on the horizon?
BS: The future is using non-human technologies to address crime in apartments because they cost less ongoing and can work well. I'm going to be honest. Most apartment managers are cheap. They don't want to pay to have someone tell them how to solve crime or for armed security. Most owners believe that it's the government's job, that it's why they pay property tax. They feel they are paying for police and prosecutors and jails. But it's a new world today, and there are not enough jails, there aren't enough cops, and there aren't enough prosecutors to deal with all of it. If a property manager wants to properly navigate their financial future, they need to have some basic awareness of what crime looks like, what some things are they can do that don't cost a lot of money, and be involved in the community transformations that need to happen. There are technologies that will help. But just like any tool, you've got to know how to use it. Otherwise, it's just a tool.