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VOL. 124 | NO. 58 | Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tougher Stance Toward Trespassers Makes Dent in Crime

By Bill Dries

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MEANS BUSINESS: LEDIC Management CEO and President Pierce Ledbetter, at microphone, signed up the Autumn Ridge apartment complex as the first complex to include surveillance cameras and a new no trespassing standard. With Ledbetter at this week’s announcement were Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, left, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, right, and City Council member Harold Collins, not shown. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

The Ridgeway Station of the Memphis Police Department recently was considered the most violent and crime-plagued precinct in Memphis. And as the police department began to look at crime by statistical standards, the area also stood out for the number of apartment complexes it had.

Those two facts, police and their statisticians learned, were related.

The complexes include Autumn Ridge Apartments next to the precinct as well as Hickory Ridge Middle School on the other side of the apartments.

With the federally funded Safeways initiative focusing on apartment security, crime is down by double-digit percentage points, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said this week.

Crime overall is down 17 percent year to date in the precinct. Violent crime is down 24 percent since 2006 and property crimes are down 28 percent, Godwin said.

After several years of talks and working out the logistics, LEDIC Management Group is now touting a new system of cameras at Autumn Ridge as well as a new policy for trespassers.

“The LEDIC property manager is great at leasing and talks very softly, but now carries a very big stick when it comes to protecting the safety interests of ... residents. Our goal is to take (our new approach) citywide to help other property management companies do the same.”
– Pierce Ledbetter
LEDIC CEO and president
KEEP OUT: No trespassing signs posted recently in the Autumn Ridge Apartments in Hickory Hill are part of an anti-crime campaign that allows police to arrest trespassers on their first offense instead of waiting for the issuance of a legal notice not to trespass again. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

“Under this program, LEDIC Management is allowing the Memphis police department and the sheriff’s department free access to the property, and they will have the ability to arrest for criminal trespass anyone who is not a tenant, a family member of a tenant or an invited guest,” said Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. “They will be physically arrested. … They will not simply be issued citations.”

The cameras, which cost $500 apiece, are linked to the police Real Time Crime Center as part of the security upgrade.

“We’ve got $500 cameras with a $3.5 million brain,” said LEDIC CEO and President Pierce Ledbetter of the arrangement in which LEDIC paid the cost for all of the cameras in the complex.

Two strikes

The demonstration project involves more than the latest technology.

With the posting of “no trespassing” signs, property managers are able to drop a step in barring intruders from property. The step is known as an “authorization of agency.” It allows police to arrest someone on private property the second time they trespass after the owner calls police, the police write a citation and the authorization is issued.

“Today we would ask that person to leave. But with the sign, (the property manager) can say, ‘Stay right here,’ or call the police and that person will be arrested,” Ledbetter told The Daily News. “Under the authorization of agency it’s not just this property, but other properties that are part of the fold. If you were to be stopped here and then went to another property, then it’s your second strike.”

LEDIC signed a memorandum of understanding with local authorities, including the District Attorney General’s office, which led to posting the signs as well as the cameras and the working relationship with police. Gibbons and Godwin said they hope other apartment managers will sign similar agreements.

Big stick

Autumn Ridge is designated as the city’s first “Safeways Apartment Community.”

“The LEDIC property manager is great at leasing and talks very softly, but now carries a very big stick when it comes to protecting the safety interests of ... residents,” said Ledbetter, whose company manages 25,000 apartment units. “Our goal is to take it citywide to help other property management companies do the same.”

University of Memphis sociologist Dr. Phyllis Betts said underlying the technology is the possibility for more cooperation that could lead to better enforcement of protection orders in domestic violence or divorce cases.

Betts is working to get tenants in cooperating apartment complexes to let apartment managers know about such orders and put those named in the orders on a trespass list.

“Orders of protection are public documents,” Betts told The Daily News. “There’s got to be that kind of communication. It can’t be that we could do this if we ever hooked up. … I like to say that my role in all of this is that I’m the people part.”

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