A security crackdown that began Monday in several East Chattanooga apartment complexes has reduced criminal activity in the area, according to police and property management, though efforts to curb violence there are just beginning.
The owners and managers of Woodlawn Apartments on Wilson Street, Woodlawn II Apartments on Arlington Avenue and Windsor Terrace Apartments on Windsor Street said they hire off-duty police to patrol their properties every summer but have kicked the effort up a notch this year in hopes of averting a problematic summer.
"Starting this weekend, (residents are) going to see quite a bit of presence out there," said Chip Griffin of Lookout Property Management, which oversees the three complexes.
Police in the area, who said they expect problems every year as temperatures rise and children are out of school, have noticed a decrease in calls this week as more officers have made their presence known.
"When (officers are) there, (troublemakers) stay inside," said Officer Galen Fugh, who has patrolled in East Chattanooga for more than eight years and now also coordinates off-duty security for the apartments.
A specially organized crime suppression that put a high concentration of officers in the area Friday was an example of police efforts to keep potential criminals on their toes, Officer Fugh said.
Management has tried to do the same by hiring off-duty police officers to provide supplemental patrol, said North Chattanooga attorney Marvin Berke, one of the owners of Woodlawn II. Mr. Berke said he has been aware of problems for several years and always has provided extra security. However, he said, recent media attention surrounding Woodlawn resident Kim Petty -- who has complained publicly about gunshots and drug use in her neighborhood -- prompted owners to double their security budget.
Mr. Berke declined to discuss specifics of his financial investment in the effort but did say the additional funding had been discussed prior to Ms. Petty's appearance in the local media in recent weeks.
Anywhere from two and 10 off-duty officers work in the area at a time, according to Officer Fugh, concentrating their efforts on weekends and during afternoon and evening hours.
The officers see any number of problems there, he said -- "shootings, stabbings, basically everything."
But many of the arrests police make are for trespassing, according to Officer Fugh, who has noticed that many people believed to be causing the most problems do not live on the property.
"A lot of the stuff is people that are coming over there and hanging out," he said. "A lot of people don't live there, but that's the only thing they know. As kids, that's where they hung out. They go from playing to fighting, from drinking soda to drinking beer."
Trespassers cause headaches for management, Mr. Griffin said, as site managers cannot evict them. Managers have created a ban list to help police identify trespassing individuals and arrest them, he said, though often he sees the same people returning almost immediately.
Mr. Griffin believes increased jail penalties could serve as a deterrent, though he said he now is focused on more immediate security issues.
Chattanooga police Sgt. Bobby Simpson, who heads the department's civil enforcement and crime prevention efforts, agreed that expanded patrolling should be the first step in addressing the problem.
"They can better identify where the problems are coming from so we can attack that," Sgt. Simpson said. "If we don't find where the major problem is coming from, then this is going to perpetuate."
Increased police presence does make a difference in the meantime, said Ms. Petty and her husband, Kevin Williams -- but it never seems to be enough.
"When the police leave, they come right back out," Mr. Williams said. "The police need more help, because the patrol can only do so much."
Officer Fugh said he would like to see more officers on the street, too, "but the manpower just won't allow it."