Citing the department’s shorthanded roster and a desire to curb criminal behavior in town, Mayor Anthony Calderone is asking council members to consider adding another full-time officer to the rolls. The job description, however, would be unlike any other in the police department.
Calderone, who also serves as commissioner of the police department, wants to target rental properties in Forest Park, which are a major source of criminal activity, he said. The new position in the police department would work almost exclusively with landlords to help them screen prospective tenants, improve security on their properties and evict renters who are committing crimes.
In particular, said Calderone, he is interested in giving the village more sway with absentee landlords and removing drugs from the community.
“The bottom line is getting landlords to be better landlords,” Calderone said.
Police Chief Jim Ryan is in agreement with the mayor that such an effort is necessary and said he is compiling statistics that will demonstrate just how much time his officers spend responding to calls generated from rental properties. Ryan speculated the data will show that police are much more likely to find themselves at a rental than at an owner-occupied home.
“They’re very taxing on us,” Ryan said of rental properties.
Patrol officers are also putting together a list of the rental properties within their beats. According to the 2000 U.S. census, 45 percent of Forest Park’s housing units are occupied by renters.
The village has 39 sworn officers, including department brass. For much of the last year, Ryan has had to cover shifts while being short at least three officers.
The police department is not venturing into uncharted territory with its proposal and is in fact modeling a widely used program first developed in Mesa, Ariz., in 1992. The Crime Free Multi-Housing Program is used in 44 states across the country and is taking hold across the globe, according to the International Crime Free Association, the non-profit company that provides training and support to municipalities that use its methods. To ensure that property owners buy into the program – which includes regular training on property maintenance, lease agreements and even policing strategies – the association says the backbone is in the adoption of local ordinances that mandate participation. Another crucial component is a lease addendum that gives property owners the authority to evict tenants if they, or their guests, are breaking the law.
Tim Zehring is the executive director of the Crime Free program and also serves as its spokesperson. Zehring did not respond to requests for an interview, however, a sample lease addendum is available on the organization’s Web site. Prostitution, gang activity and drug use are among the offenses for which landlords would be allowed to evict a tenant.
“The rental properties with the highest crime rates achieved immediate results with up to 90 percent reduction in police calls-for-service,” Zehring states on his Web site. “Even the best properties commonly enjoyed 15 percent reductions in police calls.”
In Forest Park, Calderone said he has not yet discussed the program with community groups or area landlords. The first public mention of the proposal came during a May 28 budget hearing during which the mayor outlined the responsibilities of the new position.
The post would increase the department’s payroll obligations by $76,500, according to the council’s discussion at that hearing.
“Forest Park knows that a lot of our problems stem from absentee landlords,” Calderone said.
The mayor added that he anticipates there will be a backlash from rental-property owners if the program is adopted. However, he said this effort does not equate to an unfair targeting of any demographic in Forest Park and pointed to the thousands of cities across the country that have found success using this model.
“It doesn’t make any difference what color you are, it’s about the conduct,” Calderone said. “Whether it’s a property owner or a renter, they have to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.”