The apartment complex in El Cajon, near San Diego, was a legendary crime hub overrun with dope dealers and gangs that drained law enforcement resources for years. “It was a dump,” Mayor Mark Lewis said. “A crime-ridden, roach-infested dump. We thought about renumbering it 911.” The San Diego Union-Tribune says brazen thugs regularly bombarded cops with bottles and rocks from a second-story walkway overlooking a center courtyard and a mold-filled swimming pool.
A year ago a new owner, backed by an aggressive police program, replaced the dopers and deadbeats at the 68-unit complex with the buzz of power saws and construction crews. Now called Town Plaza Communities, it’s the latest of nearly 100 apartment complexes certified as “crime free” under a crime-prevention program called Crime-Free Multi Housing. Calls for police at Town Plaza have dropped by 80 percent.
The program was created in 1992 by a crime-prevention specialist in Mesa, Ariz., whose solution was simple: Crime is higher in places where criminals live, so kick out the crooks. The police there started a certification program for landlords in high-crime areas. Law enforcement helped them evict problem tenants; landlords rent only to people who sign an agreement not to use or sell drugs, or commit any other crime.
The Mesa, Ariz., program quickly spread to cities nationwide and was adopted in El Cajon, where about 100 properties have met the requirements, and hundreds more have applied. It’s worked so well that the department is expanding it to mobile-home parks and residential motels in town.