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Mayor offers security plan

Mayor Bob Coble’s call for a city policy requiring all large apartment complexes to develop and institute a safety and security plan could break new ground nationally.

After several meetings with officials of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development both here and in Washington, the mayor thinks the city can require security measures at troublesome complexes despite the absence of a national precedent.

“If you can solve the crime problems in these big complexes, you can go a long way to solving the crime problems in all of Columbia,” the mayor said.

“Everything that we would require would seem to be good for business,” he said. “We have to work to show people it’s to their advantage to have security.”

The plan would:

 Require the owners and managers of large complexes, say more than 25 or 50 units, to develop a plan with police and code enforcement officers to secure the complexes.

 Require owners to use security measures such as private guards, security cameras or fencing, if needed

 Require managers to screen tenants, enforce leases and evict residents who break the rules.

The city would have to work closely with the owners and managers on the front end of a plan, both Coble and city manager Charles Austin said.

“I have confidence we can make it happen,” Austin said. “We will go to the table and make this partnership work.”

Austin pledged to meet personally one-on-one with complex managers and owners before imposing any requirements.

“We need to have little meetings before we have the big meeting,” he said. “It’s the property owners’ responsibility in conjunction with the police to provide security. We need to come together to do that.”

Private security cameras, fences and guards are expensive, and Coble admits there will be little or no federal, state or city money to pay for them.

“Realistically, it would probably have to be paid by the owner,” Coble said.

He thinks the investment would pay off.

The early successes in Gable Oaks — where then-owner SunTrust Bank and manager The Beach Co. hired private guards and instituted other measures — shows that transforming some of the city’s toughest housing complexes into safe communities is achievable.

The complex has since been sold and security officers have been pulled. But while they were there, the residents were safe. “Gable Oaks has proven it can be done,” Coble said.

Coble’s plan also includes penalties if owners do not comply.

He envisions bringing the owners before city courts and levying fines, although the exact mechanism for enforcement hasn’t been developed.

“It’s going to take another strategy that we haven’t devised yet,” he said.

The city of Charlotte is struggling with these same issues. It is exploring ways to crack down on what officials there call crime “hot spots” by tightening requirements on landlords.

Federal Housing and Urban Development officials know of no other cities that have instituted such a policy, spokeswoman Donna White said.

Coble’s initiative would extend to all apartment complexes, not just the ones that accept federal housing assistance vouchers.

But if police and code enforcement officers find that a complex already is secure, no measures would be required, the mayor said.

“If you don’t have a safety and security problem, you don’t need safety and security features,” Coble said.

The trick might be enforcement. Because the policy is unprecedented, no one knows if it will hold up in court.

“We have some challenges,” said City Council member Tameika Isaac Devine, who with council member Sam Davis accompanied Coble to Washington to discuss the measures.

Davis said the city should take a shot at enacting a policy anyway.

“We just have to get more aggressive,” he said. “We need to put something together that is fair but has some teeth.”

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