Otis White on Houston's crime and police situationRegular readers know I like to pass along how the outside world perceives Houston, so here's Otis White's take from his Urban Notebook blog at Governing magazine (no permalink available, so here it is in full):
I'm all for this approach. It has elements of privatization and efficiency: rather than just adding more public-payroll cops, let the private market solve the problem in whatever they think the most cost-effective manner is (security cameras, fences, gates, guards, etc.), but the government holds them accountable for results.
Who’s Responsible When Tenants Misbehave?
Turning Landlords into Police
Ask any cop. Crime isn’t spread evenly across a city; it’s concentrated in certain neighborhoods and apartment complexes. Which is why an idea making the rounds in Houston these days is so intriguing: Why not hold apartment owners responsible for the number of emergency calls coming from their buildings?
Here’s how it would work: The city would classify apartment complexes by incidents and numbers of units and rank them in tiers. As the number of emergency calls per unit climbs, so would the severity of sanctions. At the lowest level, apartment owners and managers might have to do nothing more than attend a public safety seminar. At the middle tiers, police officials might insist on security improvements, including private security guards. At the highest levels, property owners could be asked to post bonds that would be returned if incidents declined. Still having problems? The city could shut down the business.
The Houston city council is looking at this idea, which is already used in some cities in Washington State, because Houston is short on police officers and there’s concern about a recent spike in violent crime. (Fourteen homicides were reported over the Thanksgiving holiday period; about half of recent killings occurred at apartment complexes, police officials said.) “You’re tying up fire trucks ... you’re tying up police,” one council member said. “What we’re looking at is ways that we can free up officers.”
Not surprisingly, apartment owners aren’t wild about the idea. “How do I prevent the outside stray bullet from striking my window?” one complex manager asked the Houston Chronicle. “The problem is, I’m in a bad neighborhood.... I already paid taxes. The outside crime should be controlled by the city.”Actually, outside observers agree: Asking apartment complex owners to do their part won’t work unless the city does its. And here Houston is falling behind; police staffing is considerably below the national average for big cities. “The priority has to be rebuilding the police force,” one lawyer who has served on public safety task forces told the Chronicle.