Hawthorne Woods Crime Free Housing

A sign at Hawthorne Woods Apartments in Clinton announces that the housing complex is part of Clinton’s Crime Free Housing program. Property manager Ashley Chockley attended Phase I training in 2019, along with four other key staff members, said Clinton Police Sgt. Joel Wehde. Phase’s II and III were completed thereafter. From Jan. 1, 2021 until Oct. 1, 2021, police responded to 23 founded calls for service there. Several were for loud music and motor vehicle accidents, Wehde said.

CLINTON — A new survey shows that tenants in Crime-Free Housing apartments are feeling safer and seeing less criminal activity, Kristen Huisenga, of Gateway Impact Coalition, said Wednesday.

In 2018, the Clinton Police Department, Building and Neighborhood Services and Clinton Substance Abuse Council sought a grant of $48,561 to start a crime-free housing initiative.

The Edward Bryne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant provides federal funding to state and community governments for law enforcement, including crime prevention and education, community corrections and planning.

The City of Clinton provided a $12,500 match from its Low-to-Moderate Income funds for the pilot program, which started with 100 rental units in the first year.

The grant provided money for overtime for officers and BNS to get the program started, said Huisenga. “A lot of it was start-up cost.”

Grant money paid for training, certification, forms and training materials, Huisenga said. It also paid for the signs that are posted outside apartment complexes that are part of the program.

Gateway Impact Coalition manages the grant and tracks data, Huisenga said.

The program educates landlords, provides safety inspections and lets tenants know what their rights are, said Huisenga. It also conducts minority impact meetings because Blacks may be disproportionately impacted by the program, she said.

“We’re trying to be very appropriate in the community,” Huisenga said.

When an apartment building joins the crime-free housing program, residents are surveyed about such things as how safe they feel in their apartments and neighborhoods, whether they have deadbolt locks on their doors, how often they see police in their neighborhoods and how often they witness crime, assaults, drug use and drug dealing, Huisenga said.

After crime-free changes are implemented, residents answer the same survey questions about every six months to measure the success of the program, Huisenga said. They can suggest things that would make them feel safer and comment on changes they’ve noticed in property management, environment and safety.

The city is in the fourth and final year of the grant, Huisenga said, but it has taken steps to sustain the program, which currently includes about 420 apartments.

Sgt. Joel Wehde is the crime-free housing coordinator for the Clinton Police Department.

“Over three years ago the Clinton Police Department began developing a crime-free housing program in response to the growing crime rate that was associated with rental property,” Wehde told the Clinton City Council on Tuesday.

The goal was to keep illegal activity out of rental property, but the logistics to achieve that goal weren’t so simple, Wehde said.

Following research and training, organizers decided that phase one of the program train landlords, managers and maintenance personnel to understand lease and background processes, fair housing standards and crime trends.

In phase two, police assess the security of the environment of the property. Lighting, access points, structure fortification and landscaping that would hinder view around the property are assessed.

Phase three is community outreach for the tenants, explaining the program and encouraging tenants to call if they see criminal activity, Wehde said.

So far, the program has conducted three eight-hour phase-one training sessions. Eleven property owners joined the program, Wehde said.

The 11 partners in the program encompass 71 properties with 426 rental units, Wehde said. Clinton has 4,500 registered rental units, so crime-free housing currently works with only 10% at this time.

In 2019-2020, tenants of the first apartments enrolled in the program answered a pre-program survey. In 2021, post surveys were administered for the same properties, said Wehde.

Tenants who felt somewhat safe or very safe increased from 78% to 84% after crime-free housing was implemented. Tenants who felt very safe to somewhat safe in their neighborhoods increased from 74% to 78%, Wehde said.

The number of tenants with deadbolt locks increased from 73% to 86%, Wehde said. The number of tenants who never saw a crime committed in their neighborhoods increased from 50% to 68% and the number who never saw assaults increased from 73% to 81%.

The number of tenants who never saw drug activity increased from 50% to 57%, Wehde said.

Grant funding for the program ends this year, said Wehde. After that time, the program will be self-funded through the police department, he said.

Another phase one training is scheduled for Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. at the police training center. Residents can register for the training at the Clinton Police Department, by calling Wehde at 243-1455 or sending an email to joelwehde@gapa911.us.

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Senior Staff Writer

A native of Centerville, Winona joined the Clinton Herald in November 2018 after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.