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Realtor-police partnership for safety.

These newspaper stories depict only a few of the increasing numbers of crimes committed against real estate agents nationwide. Real estate agents have daily, one-on-one contact with various individuals - virtual strangers - and put themselves at risk every day. They advertise their availability by displaying a trail of signs, usually adorned with balloons indicating an open house, and remain relatively easy targets to criminals. Personal safety and security remain important issues.

The National Association of Realtors reports an increase in crimes against real estate agents in recent years. These crimes, ranging from minor thefts and assaults to rapes and even murder, occur throughout the country. A 1996 report on the real estate industry estimates the total number of agents and brokers in the United States at 2,350,000. In 1996, the National Association of Realtors consisted of 695,000 members, with females representing 54 percent of that total.(5) Female real estate agents, in particular, become targets during house showings when meeting the client alone or at night. Anyone can become a victim, including real estate agents, and everyone should anticipate what can happen. The Michigan Realtor Magazine advised that "the first step in preventing any crime is the knowledge that it can happen to you," and "denial stops most people from anticipating what can happen."(6)

By forming a partnership with local realtors, police departments can help real estate agents identify and possibly prevent crimes against them. To prevent the nationwide trend of violent acts against real estate agents from becoming a local reality, the Chesterfield County, Virginia, Police Department began a joint training venture with area realtors as an extension of their community policing program.

A JOINT TRAINING PROGRAM

Encompassing metropolitan Richmond and approximately 500 square miles in size, Chesterfield County boasts a diversified make-up of business, industry, and residential housing. The current population rests at over 250,000, with a steady increase of home sales in the forecast. With a significant number of home sales comes a large number of realtors, and in turn, possible crime victims. Although Chesterfield County realtors have not reported any major crimes, the initiation of a joint training program between the local law enforcement community and area real estate agents seeks to ensure crime prevention and personal safety.

Safety Issues

In training sessions offered every 6 months, officers from Chesterfield County's community policing and crime prevention divisions provide valuable safety tips that help realtors thwart possible harmful situations. Police officers instruct realtors how to take precautions when meeting prospective clients and how to protect themselves if an incident occurs. Among the information provided, officers advise realtors to conduct the first meeting with clients at the realty office. This provides the realtor an opportunity to become somewhat acquainted with clients, rather than merely judging them by their outward appearance. Officers also instruct real estate agents to identify clients before a house showing by acquiring an address and telephone number, if possible, and to leave this information with another individual. Officers advise realtors to show homes in pairs when possible, especially at night, and inform another person of their destination and who will accompany them, all while within earshot of the client. These precautions advise prospective customers that other individuals know their names and the realtor's location at all times and that assistance remains available to realtors in emergency situations.

Officers should advise real estate agents to drive customers in their own vehicles when showing property and ensure that their cars remain in good running condition. This gives real estate agents control of the situation and eliminates various safety issues, such as the client pretending to run out of gas in a desolate area. By parking their vehicles in a noticeable area (i.e., on the street in front of the house on show) agents can make a quick exit if necessary.

Law enforcement officers also instruct real estate agents on ways to identify ding users and notice signs of drug abuse, both factors that can warn realtors of an impending problem. Clients left alone may prepare the house for a later burglary by unlocking doors/windows or planting weapons for a future visit; therefore, officers caution realtors to remain with customers throughout the house to help prevent future incidents.

Not only designed to provide realtors with safety tips, the training program also offers a physical defense training session where police officers prepare realtors for unexpected holds such as bear hugs and how to escape them, how to break handholds, and ways to defend themselves against choke holds. These classes can benefit realtors caught alone with individuals attempting to overpower them.

Finally, officers stress that above all, real estate agents should always have a plan. By anticipating incidents and preparing ahead of time for a response, dangerous situations can be prevented. If running remains the only option, realtors should have a destination in mind so that a worse situation does not develop.

Realtors Helping Police

In addition to preventing crime by educating realtors, this program also represents a partnership intended to benefit law enforcement officers. Realtors work 7 days a week, all hours of the day, and travel through many subdivisions and housing areas that law enforcement officers may not always get a chance to patrol. Real estate agents can act as extra eyes for the police. Many realtors travel with a cellular telephone and can contact law enforcement officers when observing any unusual activities in their areas. This further assists the police department in their efforts in crime prevention and reduction as well as in the apprehension of violators.

RESULTS

The realtor community expresses enthusiasm about this program, readily welcomes the police into their world, and continues to show support with the police department. Initially a short-term program, the partnership continues as officers from the department's safety and community support division regularly participate in the activities of such organizations as the local business associations or retail merchants associations. This partnership, another branch of the community policing program, has resulted in positive community relations in Chesterfield County.

As is the case in Chesterfield County, Virginia, most states have governing boards that mandate realtor training annually. If approved, this training rewards the realtors as well as satisfies part of their annual training requirements. Almost all populated areas have a local realtor association with which to work. These associations usually have education and public affairs departments that can provide assistance.

CONCLUSION

Creating a partnership between local police departments and real estate agencies can prevent realtors from becoming victims. By initiating a joint training program with real estate agencies and providing valuable safety tips, local police departments prepare realtors for attempted crimes against them. These training programs not only benefit realtors but can provide valuable information to police departments concerning criminal activity, as well. Departments throughout the country should capitalize on realtors' assistance, and in turn, form lasting partnerships with them.

Endnotes

1 "Real Estate Agent Raped in Gables," Miami Herald, November 25, 1996, 1B.

2 "Realtor Safety: You May Lose a Sale, but if the Situation is Uncomfortable Then Bow Out," The Illinois Realtor, November 1994, 18.

3 "Safety First," Florida Realtor, June 1994, 18.

4 Ibid.

5 Jennifer Montgomery, National Association of Realtors, Chicago, IL. interview by author, December 1996.

6 "The Keys to Your Protection," The Michigan Realtor Magazine, May 1994, 8.

Additional Information

For further information contact:

National Association of Realtors 430 North Michigan Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60611 (312) 329-8200

Women's Council of Realtors 430 North Michigan Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60611 (312) 329-8483

Safety Points for Realtors

Topics covered in a training program between local police departments and real estate agencies should include instructing realtors to:

* Attempt to identify clients before a house showing.

* Never leave items identifying personal information available to clients.

* Never give out their home telephone numbers/addresses.

* Remember their obligation to protect their clients by maintaining confidentiality and not releasing sensitive client information (e.g., client's home telephone number and address).

* Practice office security awareness (e.g., do not leave realtor's or client's home telephone numbers/addresses in an area open to public access).

* Tell another individual their destination.

* Never carry a large amount of money or wear a lot of jewelry.

* Establish a prearranged distress signal with each realtor agency member and family members to use in emergencies.

* Always drive their own vehicle.

* Always ensure their vehicle remains in good running condition.

* Park their vehicle in a noticeable area when showing property.

* Keep vehicle keys easily retrievable in case of an emergency.

* Remain suspicious of spur-of-the-moment showings or clients who rush their schedule.

* Always have a plan.

Lieutenant Leonard serves as a shift commander with the Chesterfield County Police Department in Chesterfield, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Leonard, Karl
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:1445
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