The Forest Park Police Department is trying to fight crime with a little bit of preventative medicine. With the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, taught by Det. Mike O’Connor, the police department is training local landlords and property managers to screen potential rental housing tenants for criminal records and to make their buildings more secure.

The voluntary program started in Mesa, Ariz., in 1992, but has since spread to 2,000 cities in 44 states, five Canadian Provinces, and parts of Mexico, England, Finland, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Puerto Rico. O’Connor has been putting on these seminars, which are only the first phase of the program, for the past eight months. According to information provided by the FPPD, calls to police have dropped as much as 70 percent in areas where the program is implemented.

A study by DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies states that nearly 53 percent of Forest Park’s housing is renter-occupied. Fair housing laws prevent discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, familial status, nationality, source of income, sexual preference, or disability. But, these laws do not protect those with a criminal history. By weeding out those convicted of crimes that affect the safety and well being of others, the program hopes to make Forest Park a safer place to live.

While this raises the question of where these people are supposed to live, O’Connor said: “That’s not my problem. My problem is the crime rate in Forest Park. My problem is providing a safe environment for my kids, and for your kids.” The program doesn’t change anyone’s behavior, O’Connor said, it changes where they do it.

Det. O’Connor considers this participating in this program an act of self-defense. He pointed to an abundance of stories where violent crime was committed on a rental property, which could have been prevented if a landlord had screened tenants for criminal history. Victims of such crimes have successfully sued the landlord for creating an unsafe environment.

The “crime-free lease addendum” is at the core of the program, which makes criminal activity a lease violation that the landlord can evict based on. This lease addendum has been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court twice and won.

Full certification in the program requires the landlord to submit their property to an inspection by police, to make sure that it meets certain safety standards, and that they host a “safety social” to allow law enforcement to explain the program to the residents.

Attendees to last Saturday’s seminar said they found it useful. Landlord Carlee Perkins, who says she plans to implement the program, said the seminar informed her of many of her rights and responsibilities as a landowner. Real estate broker Ildiko Kresz said that the seminar, “is really eye-opening, and I will recommend it to other landlords.”