By Michelle Symington
MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD With the help of the Community Police Department, owners and managers of rental properties in downtown Westfield will have the opportunity to work together to create a safer living environment for their tenants and the community.
The Community Police Department recently began to offer Westfield's Crime Free Multi- Housing Program, a three part program designed to help property owners/managers communicate with each other, work more with the Police Department and learn how to better screen potential tenants.
Sgt. Steve Dickinson of the Westfield Community Police Department said, "We want the owners and managers of properties to communicate with each other."
He added that one property owner may have evicted a problem tenant, who then would move into another apartment across the street and cause the same problems.
In addition to improving the communication between property owners, Dickinson said the program also teaches the owners and managers how to screen for better quality tenants to create a better quality of life in Westfield.
"The less they call us, [the more] we can focus on crime prevention," he said.
Dickinson said he began to see problems with tenants a few years ago when he was involved with community policing.
He added that many property owners were dealing with transient tenants who saw the apartments as temporary housing and would stay there for a few months or years and move on.
"We were having multiple calls and problems," he said.
Once Dickinson recognized the problems, he said he began to update himself about rental property laws.
Recently, he took a class in Arizona, which brought what he started to look into to a higher level.
From the class in Arizona, the Westfield Police Department learned about the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, went through training and began to implement it in Westfield.
The program is completed in three phases.
The first phase includes an eight-hour class that features a variety of guest speakers who teach property owners about screening tenants, housing court and eviction, and lease agreements.
The Police Department already has enough property owners interested that it plans to offer the class again in April.
The first two classes took place March 14 and 21. The next class is scheduled for March 28. Dickinson said each class can hold up to 15 people.
For phase two of the program police officers visit the rental property during the day and at night to ensure that the properties are up to the Department's standards in terms of crime prevention through environmental design, according to Dickinson.
He said the officers will check the bushes, hedges, lighting, peep holes on the doors and will make sure the bolts that hold the locks on the doors are two inches. He added that the door handles may come with decorative screws that do not hold well.
The third phase of the program requires the property owners/managers to host a social event such as a barbecue, during which the property owners, police officers and tenants will have the chance to interact.
He added that the social event will allow the residents to learn about the Police Department's statistics and about crime prevention.
He added that the Community Police Department will ask the property owners/managers to host a social event once a year so that they maintain a connection with the Department. He also said surprise inspections of the properties will take place.
According to Dickinson, the ultimate goal is to get every multi- housing property involved with the program to prevent undesirable people who cause problems from jumping from one property to another.
Dickinson said the program will make the officers more aware about what is going on at the rental properties and will help them "build relationships with the owners and managers and the community."
He added that the property owners want to collect their money and have good tenants and the police officers don't want to receive problem phone calls.
"If we work together we can accomplish that," he said.
The program currently focuses on the downtown area, which includes over 700 rental properties.
In addition to helping the Police Department with crime prevention, the program has advantages for the property owners involved.
Dickinson explained that once the property owners complete the 8-hour course, their names and addresses will be listed on the Community Police website.
"It is advertising on our webpage," Dickinson said.
He added that the Police Department receives calls from parents of college students and other people looking to rent for advice on good neighborhoods. He said the officers will now be able to refer the potential tenants to the website and point them to the neighborhoods with property owners who have completed the program.
Once the property owners/managers complete the three phase program, they will have the opportunity to purchase a sign that they can place on their property stating they have participated in the program.
Through its website, the Community Police Department will also offer a forum where the property owners can talk to each other about problem tenants or to just communicate with each other in general.
Dickinson said the forum is password protected and will only be available to those individuals who pass the program.
Although the Department has only hosted two classes this far, Dickinson said he has received nothing but positive feedback about the program. He said most participants have committed to participate in the remaining two phases of the program.
"It is an outstanding program and I am surprised at the amount of people who jumped on board," he said "The big selling point is the fact that we advertise their property and we have a forum page where they can communicate with each other."
Dickinson said he will continue with the program for as long as it is working.
The program is funded by the Westfield Police Department, but participants must pay $25 to cover the cost of the manual.
For more information about the program, visit www.westfieldcomunitypolice.com or contact Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 454-2510.