When Pierce Ledbetter, the CEO of LEDIC Management, signed up his company’s Autumn Ridge apartment complex for the federally funded Safeways anti-crime initiative in 2009, he was nervous.
And his apprehension was soon borne out as residents in the crime-ridden apartment complex reacted to the new regime of police cameras and stricter regulations on trespassers and unannounced visitors.
“The first experiences were some of the most nerve rattling for us when residents turned in their notices to leave. And those that were choosing to leave were in some cases the best paying residents,” Ledbetter said. “What we soon found out was they were running businesses out of their apartments. They weren’t just living there.”
Autumn Ridge is next to the Ridgeway Station police precinct and Hickory Ridge Middle School. And in 2009 it had a reputation as “one of the worst apartment complexes in the city of Memphis, certainly Hickory Hill,” said police Major Charles E. Newell.
Newell said police are hampered because some apartment managers find it easier to continue getting the rent paid regularly by drug dealers who use the complexes as a base for operations that brings crime from the outside into the apartment complexes.
“Only a few people were the problem,” Newell said of Autumn Ridge.
Over the life of the Autumn Ridge pilot project, reported crimes are down 80 percent from where they were when the effort kicked off in March 2009.
Newell and Ledbetter looked back last week on the origins of the crime-fighting approach at the apartment complexes that jumped out in crime statistics as hotbeds for crime both brought into the complexes and that originated within the complexes.
The focus on crime statistics was part of the overall Blue CRUSH strategy police have been using since 2006. Safeways is a part of the broader Operation Safe Community anti-crime strategy pursued by a coalition of law enforcement and community groups that also dates back to 2006.
With $450,000 in funding from the Plough Foundation over three years and another $150,000 from the city’s Memphis Gun Down Initiative, the program is becoming a self-sustaining nonprofit operation.
The kickoff includes 15 Memphis apartment complexes that will become part of the program. The 15 are across three of the city’s best-known and largest apartment management firms including LEDIC, ALCO Management and Makowsky, Ringel and Greenberg. The complexes are in the University of Memphis area, Frayser, Whitehaven and Southeast Memphis.
“We believe that in a matter of three to five years it will only be those few properties that will be conspicuous by absence when you don’t see that they are part of Safeways,” Ledbetter said. “We imagine there will be those that choose not to join. At that point, it will probably be a lot easier to serve warrants or find where the lesser elements want to live.”
The apartment managers sign memorandums of agreement with the Safeways program that can lead to a Safeways designation with a sign that Ledbetter said he hopes will become like the “good housekeeping seal” for apartments. Each memorandum is tailored to particular crime conditions or problems within a complex and tactics to be used.
“Everything is finally in place,” said Safeways executive director Julaine K. Harris.
The goal isn’t to turn the complexes into upscale communities with upscale rents. It is to keep the apartments affordable but make them safe.
“We also find that those people that seek out the apartment complexes that want to live in a safe place, want to live there for a long time,” Ledbetter said. “As an apartment manager, from a business perspective, that lowers expenses because we’re not turning over units. With lower turnover, it’s higher income and with higher income it becomes higher property values.”