Mayor Bob defends his apartment security plan


Mayor Bob came by the office this morning to try to sell us on his proposed ordinance to require security measures at apartment complexes. We talked for about 45 minutes. As you know, we have criticized the city in the past for trying to get the federal government to do the city’s job with regard to crime in poor North Columbia neighborhoods. Here’s what we said March 9:

Published on: 03/09/2008
Edition: FINAL
Page: A22
IT MAKES GOOD sense for the owner of troubled Gable Oaks apartments to beef up security, but that doesn’t relieve Columbia police of their duty to adequately patrol and enforce the law at the omplex.
    City officials seem to believe it’s largely up to the owner of the apartment complex to provide what amounts to basic police protection.
    They say the onus is on Transom Development, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks, to ensure residents’ safety. Some council members want the federal government to require — and help pay for — security at apartment complexes, such as Gable Oaks, that accept federal housing vouchers. Last week, some S.C. House members got into they act by filing legislation that would offer income tax credits in exchange for providing security at low-income, multifamily housing complexes.
    Considering the fact that three people have been killed in or near Gable Oaks since December, it’s understandable that residents and city officials are very concerned. It’s perfectly appropriate for Transom to do all it can to provide extra security for its residents. And it should pay for that higher level of service. Transom plans to do just that; it has agreed to hire security guards and to issue residents parking decals.
    But make no mistake about it, the primary responsibility for protecting residents of Gable Oaks or any other part of the city lies with the city. Gable Oaks is in the city limits, and its tenants are city residents. City residents should be able to expect a certain level and quality of service from the police department.
    We can’t help but believe that if there was a spike in crime in Shandon or Wales Garden — no matter how minor — the city would aggressively patrol the area, get matters under control and pay more attention going forward. Gable Oaks deserves no less.
    But the tone and tack city officials have used when discussing Gable Oaks make it seem as if residents are on their own if the owner doesn’t provide maximum protection. That would be unfair and discriminatory.
    While Gable Oaks is in the spotlight, north Columbia residents have taken this opportunity to express concern that the city neglects their area of town. During a meeting last Monday night, about 50 residents complained of poor police presence, indifferent landlords and a City Council focused more on downtown than north Columbia. There’s no doubt that over the years, the city has paid inadequate attention to certain areas of town, and north Columbia is one of them.
    While city officials say the owner should police Gable Oaks, some acknowledge that tenants from the complex aren’t necessarily the troublemakers. Visitors and people passing through cause some of the problems. That means those people are passing through — or even coming from — other city neighborhoods. And it’s the city’s responsibility to police all its neighborhoods and ensure people’s safety.
    By all means, Gable Oaks’ owner should improve security. But city police shouldn’t take that as a sign they don’t have to be vigilant in policing the area.
    Ultimately, the quality of law enforcement residents in Gable Oaks, or other parts of Columbia, receive will be determined by how committed the city is to help make it safe.

Here are some of the main points that the mayor made to us this morning:

  • The federal government, since it provides subsidies for housing in these complexes, should require security just as it has architectural requirements.
  • The feds have refused twice to ge involved, but suggested the city would be within its rights to require lighting, fencing, private security guards and other measures by ordinance — if the rules applied to ALL apartment complexes in the city.
  • There is some chance the federal position might change with a new administration, but crime-beleaguered residents can’t wait for that.
  • Whatever the philosophical objections (such as our objection that if the crime were in Shandon, the police would deal with it), there is the very real problem of people being exposed to crime. The city has had real-life success stopping crime in Gable Oaks using the approach he is now proposing to apply to ALL apartments in the city, and there is no good reason not to implement something that works.
  • One difference between this and crime involving single-family residences is that an apartment complex is a large business being conducted within the city, and is thereby subject to regulation.
  • Requiring the complexes to provide security is no different from requiring USC to come up with off-duty cops to handle traffic for Williams-Brice Stadium events: If you’re running an enterprise that causes a problem, you deal with the problem.
  • It’s not appropriate for city police to stay in one such business 24 hours a day, at the neglect of nearby areas.
  • Private security guards can enforce rules that city police can’t — such as a complex’s own covenants or lease provisions.

Near as I can recall, those were his main points. Maybe I’ll post video from the interview on Saturday Extra this week. (In fact, I’m sure I will unless something better comes up.)

Oh, and by the way — the mayor shrugged off the friction between him and Kirkman Finlay III (below, from a previous edit board meeting) over the issue. When Warren kidded him that "I thought you were about to rip your tie off," from Adam Beam’s report this a.m. "No," said the mayor, "we were hugging and kissing by the time the day was over."


5 thoughts on “Mayor Bob defends his apartment security plan

  1. Lee Muller

    Just look at a map of serious crime overlaid on a map of public housing. They will match.
    Relocate public housing from urban areas in order to clean up the downtown, and crime patterns move with the housing.
    Memphis, TN is a great example of this, and is the subject of several recent studies on urban crime that is making a comback.
    If you are going to build government housing, the planners should also include a security plan, and a budget for lifetime security operations.

  2. Aaron

    The difference between Shandon and any apartment complex, is that the apartment complex is a place of business, that happens to be in the business of housing. Shandon is not this. It is merely a group of single family homes, as are many neighborhoods in Columbia.
    Places of business often employ security guards, cameras, etc. to protect against certain crimes and misdemeanors, which cause direct or indirect injury to that place of business. Think about Toys ‘R Us…a security guard/camera would protect against shoplifting, as well as car-jacking. The police will get there as fast as they can following such a crime, but cannot be there 24-7.
    The point is, the onus falls on the property owner. If someone walks in my yard, falls and breaks their leg, I am liable. I must agree with the mayor, that business owners need to take action to protect their property and customers, especially when those customers are choosing to reside there.
    As for Shandon, people there take their own security measures above and beyond the police as well, including security systems, cameras, and the like.

  3. Lee Muller

    Aaron is exactly right.
    Especially when the business caters to, and attracts, the criminal element, they should factor in heightened security as a cost of doing business and not becoming a public nuisance.
    Strip clubs and hip hop joints are expected to employ bouncers and parking lot guards because of their seedy clientele.
    Likewise, government housing projects that are going to be marketed to unwed mothers with men coming and going, people on welfare, etc, should expect trouble and hire guards to protect the good tenants and the surrounding neighborhoods from the riff raff in the apartment complex.

  4. penultimo mcfarland

    Has Mayor Bob been invited to join The State’s editorial board yet?
    I do believe he writes more columns for you than anyone else.

  5. Mike Cakora

    Mayor Bob’s logic is bizarre. Should those of us with VA or FHA loans also expect the Feds to provide security for our abodes? Where do I apply for my federal grant to upgrade my alarm system?
    As part of community policing outreach, why not help the apartment residents help themselves? What about a neighborhood watch program to empower these folks? I want “Grandma” to enjoy her porch, and I’ll chip in $50 toward a radio so that she has more than just “an old, yellow mop handle, a stick and a bat” to defend herself. Right know she’s too afraid to talk to the police, so the bad guys can do whatever they want to with the knowledge that nobody’s going turn them over to the cops. That’s gotta stop, but it will take a lot of confidence-building measures to do so.
    Lee’s point regarding the correlation of Section 8 housing and crime is the subject of this excellent report from the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Maybe Columbia can learn something from Memphis.
    Mayor Bob’s plan will raise landlords’ costs, forcing them to raise rents, while subjecting the city to lawsuits. If the mayor, council, and police chief can’t figure out a better solution, then maybe voters ought find leadership that can.

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