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Angels to the rescue.

Sometimes it takes "divine" intervention to turn around a property. For the 614-unit Carriage House East apartment project in Indianapolis, it seemed a miracle was our only hope.

We had tried everything - private security guards, "crime watches," and a residents' alert program. Despite our efforts, violence increased until the incidents of major crime - theft, breakins, rape, and assaults - were averaging 19 per month at the project.

Because of these problems, occupancy at the property had dropped to 82 percent, very low for a subsidized property. Many of our long-term residents had left. Something had to be done.

A decision of lost resort

Feeling that we had very few options left to salvage the property, we began conversations with representatives of the Guardian Angels. We had read about the Angels' success in ridding other projects of criminal activity, but their controversial image made us initially hesitant.

We were worried about potential liability, but because the Angels do not carry guns and take a defensive posture some concern was alleviated. The Angels have their own insurance and agree to sign a release and assume responsibility for any damage done to the property by their efforts. Because the Angels are not employees of the company but members of a non-profit volunteer organization, the company is less likely to be placed in a position of liability.

After meeting with representatives of the police, the Angels, and our attorney, we gained a promise of police cooperation. We also obtained HUD's approval. Reasoning that there is always some risk in any real estate decision, we decided to proceed. In the fall of 1990, we signed a one-year renewable contract with the Angels.

The first introduction

We next began several months of working with the Guardian Angels organization prior to their introduction to the property. The Chicago regional office of the Angels agreed to send one "resident Angel" to the Carriage House. He would serve as group leader and would recruit volunteers from the property and the neighborhood to patrol the area. The Angels receive no salaries, but were furnished with an apartment, food, beds, and equipment for communicating on patrol.

In turn, the Angels agreed to abide by a dress code and a written "code of conduct" while on the property. They also contracted to provide daily written reports documenting illegal activity and to serve as witnesses in court for crimes they observed.

Yet, despite our planning, we were a little concerned as we drove the two Angels representatives to a meeting with our residents. Our tenants simply thought they were attending another meeting on crime, but when the Angels were introduced, they received a standing ovation.

The only negative reaction came from the press covering the meeting. Camera crews filming the event completely ignored the residents' response and instead ran pieces of conversation that portrayed a negative image.

The moment of truth

After the Guardian Angels took possession of their unit in February 1991, they set about recruiting 30 volunteers from the Indianapolis area. To qualify as an Angel, an individual must be at least 16 years old, have no serious criminal record, undergo 30 hours of training, and agree to donate 8 hours a week for patrols or other community service. Angels include all ethnic groups and all ages. (The oldest is 80.)

Once the initial training period was over, Angels began to patrol the property and the neighborhood, confronting the gangs and "encouraging" them to move elsewhere. Even more than direct conflicts, the visible presence of the Angels served as a deterrent. Unlike a security guard firm, the Angels were a part of the neighborhood and the property. They were there 24 hours a day, members of the community.

Other security measures were also taken to augment the Angels' work. Funds were spent to increase lighting in sensitive areas and to block areas that allowed for unauthorized entry.

Triumph of the forces of good

Now in its second year, the presence of the Guardian Angels has been a great success. Crimes on the property have dropped to 6 per month. Occupancy has risen to between 97 and 99 percent. Residents have completely accepted the Angels, bringing them home-cooked meals. Even the reception by the police and the media has become favorable.

For the Angels, too, the experience has been a positive one. Often they are asked to come by residents, but must fight an uphill battle to gain management acceptance. At Carriage House East, they had our administrative and financial support from the outset.

For the property, the end result has also been positive. The success of the Angels led us to dispense with a paid security firm. This increased cash flow gave us more funds to improve the property And as vandalism decreased, maintenance funds were spent on grounds and landscaping that helped strengthen resident pride.

Perhaps the greatest proof of our satisfaction with the Angels is our decision to work with them again on a conventionally financed property in Florida. Again, the Angels seem to be making the difference. After only one month, non-domestic crime at the property has dropped from 16 occurrences a month to five.

Clearly, for properties facing the crime and social deterioration found too often in our society, the Guardian Angels may be the answer to a prayer.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Guardian Angels organization lowers crime rate for apartment
Author:Basile, Frank; Wilson, Deana
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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