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2013-05-01 / Family

Coalition fights crime at apartment complexes

By Donna C. Gregory
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

No one wants to be a snitch – especially when it involves telling on a neighbor. Living in close quarters, like in an apartment community, can make good citizens even more hesitant to rat out criminal activity.

But the Chesterfield Police Department’s Apartment Safety Coalition gives previously silent residents a way to make their voices heard and their communities safer. Founded in 2006, the coalition is an outreach program that facilitates communication between the police department and the county’s growing number of multifamily housing communities and their residents.

“It’s a constant flow of information,” said Sgt. Tim Kehoe with the police department’s support services division. “We try to give them the info they need to keep residents safe, to keep the community safe … so when they have something going on, they know who to call.”

One of the coalition’s goals is to build trust between the department and apartment residents, so residents feel more comfortable coming forward to report criminal activity.

“We deal with people and their homes, and it is their most intimate, protective environment,” explained Jessica DeShazo, senior property manager of Winchester Greens and Market Square, two affordable housing communities located south of Chippenham Parkway on Jefferson Davis Highway.

“When they have issues with other residents or others that might require some police involvement, they don’t always know what they should do. … A lot of people are scared to tell on their neighbors.”

The coalition gives residents a confidential way to report criminal behavior without fear of retribution.

Police officers also routinely attend apartment community meetings, increasing the department’s visibility and approachability.

“In the past year, [the] Chesterfield County [Police Department] has done a lot of work with us, trying to show that friendly face and that familiarity,” DeShazo said. “The more familiarity we have with the police department, the better relationship [residents] have. They learn to use the resources that are in place for them.”

Georgia Smith is the department’s crime prevention coordinator for multifamily housing, and routinely fields concerned phone calls from the 54 apartment communities that are coalition members.

“There are times when … something has gone on, and [the apartment managers] just aren’t sure how to handle it, and I direct them accordingly,” Smith explained.

Managers regularly call with questions about neighborhood disturbances, attempted break-ins and other suspicious activity. The police department can then use that information to step up patrols.

“It’s important because we have such a high concentration of people in a small area that if we don’t work together to combat criminal activity, it can get out of hand quickly,” Smith said.

She uses the department’s daily crime reports to help identify trends within apartment communities.

“Every day I go through the reports and see what’s happening in the apartment communities, so I can help them be proactive in doing positive things for their residents,” Smith explained.

The crime reports also are disseminated to the coalition’s apartment managers.

“It helps us work with our security companies, so that if we can see a pattern in those calls, then we can work with the police department to help residents have a little support,” DeShazo said.

The coalition sponsors quarterly meetings for apartment managers, covering topics that might be of interest, such as crime prevention, fire safety and youth programming. The department also sends out a monthly newsletter to coalition members.

“I think every resident deserves a safe place to raise their family, and that’s what we’re working toward,” Smith said. “That’s what the partnership is about. It’s about educating the managers and the residents on how to report crime and what to look for and how to help their communities.”

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