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North Columbia: City considers requiring security at apartments

Columbia Mayor Bob Coble will ask City Council this week to require apartment complexes in the city to hire private security guards and install security cameras.

The proposal would be citywide but is mostly aimed at a handful of government-subsidized apartment complexes in North Columbia in response to growing crime problems there.

“This is in everybody’s financial interest to do,” Coble said. “Less crime means higher occupancy rates and means a more secure environment.”

Pati Gerrard, who manages the Colony Apartments off West Beltline Boulevard, said the Colony has already installed security cameras and lighting.

“The only thing we have not done is private security — no money for that at Colony,” she said. “That is probably true for most property owners.”

Gerrard said before considering such an ordinance, the city should reinstate community policing, a philosophy that relies on police officers establishing relationships with the community.

“We’ve done our part,” Gerrard said. “Until (city agencies do) their part, I think this ordinance is terribly inappropriate.”

City manager Charles Austin said recently the city made a mistake when it moved away from community policing and that it would be a priority for new Chief Tandy Carter.

Crime statistics show most of North Columbia’s crime problem is concentrated around the large, open spaces of the government-subsidized apartment complexes.

Council members flew to Washington, D.C., twice this year to lobby officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for federally required security plans at apartments that receive subsidies.

But Coble said it’s clear the federal government isn’t going to do anything, so it’s time to make the move at the City Council level.

That doesn’t sit well with some pro-business council members.

“Everything we are doing now is about forcing other people to pay for our deficiencies,” Councilman Kirkman Finlay said. “What we have done is taken a large amount of what is the police’s jurisdiction and moved it back over to private individuals.”

Councilman Daniel Rickenmann questioned whether the city could force property owners to implement the changes. But Coble is leaning heavily on a state supreme court decision in New Jersey that upheld a similar law requiring private security guards.

“Clearly, if you can do security guards, you could do other requirements,” he said.

That decision upheld a 1991 ordinance in Newark, N.J., that required all public and private housing buildings of more than 100 units to provide armed security guards for eight hours each day. Penalties for failure were up to $1,000.

The ordinance specifically excluded condominiums with an indoor entrance as well as housing units on hospital property.

Other Columbia Council members, including Tameika Isaac Devine, said they would support the measure only if the city could meet the property owners half way and provide some type of tax break or other financial incentive to make the changes.

Devine is concerned because most of the city’s affordable housing is in apartment complexes.

“I wouldn’t want developers to feel like because of these extra regulations, ‘I have to increase the cost and I can’t provide affordable housing,’” she said.

Chris Carter, vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater Columbia, declined to comment. Attempts to reach the association’s president were unsuccessful.

Reach Beam at (803) 771-8405.

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