Police Best Practices for Addressing High-Crime Motels

Components of program for increasing security, police response to problematic motel environments

In yet another eventful day at a local motel, officers responded to an emergency call regarding a methamphetamine lab that a tenant hadset up in one of the rooms. The inherent danger of this makeshift drug operation placed the lives and safety of everyone at the facility in danger, and police rushed to resolve the situation. They had become quite accustomed to repeatedly responding to calls for service herebecause they did so about five times more frequently than at any of the other lodging facilities in the city. Just in the past year, officers had addressed incidents involving crimes, such as prostitution, drug trafficking, gang activity, and murder, at this location. The motel proved to be an ongoing drain on police resources and a source ofproblems for the vicinity.

Reducing illegal conduct at high-crime motels presents a challengefor law enforcement. (1) Poorly managed properties can attract criminal elements that create a substantial risk for victimization, resultin an excessive number of police calls for service, and decrease thequality of life in the neighborhood. They produce an environment in which crime-related disturbances become prevalent. And, if officers become ineffective at preventing disorder at such motels, illicit activity can spread to surrounding areas.



The La Mesa, California, Police Department developed a way to reduce arrests and calls for service at crime-prone motels in its jurisdiction. The Motel Crime Prevention Measures Program, a collaborative effort with the city attorney's office, is designed to gain the willing compliance of the property owner and management in effectuating specific crime prevention measures. This endeavor provides a way for authorities to avoid--and use only as a last resort--civil abatement procedures, which result in substantial costs to both the motel owner and the government. (2) Fortunately, in many instances, warning of thispossible action and notification of the intent of authorities to institute significant changes to the property motivate motel owners to willingly comply with officials' requests.


Several components comprise the program. These include an analysisof the motel and its problems, an examination of the property, a meeting between police department and city attorney's office representatives and the motel owner and managers, an appointment of officers to conduct high-visibility enforcement at the property, and an assessment of the program's effectiveness.

Analysis of the Motel

First, officers analyze the lodging facility and the issues pertaining to it. A department's crime analysis unit can provide statisticscovering a certain period of time to reveal patterns of criminality at the motel. Investigators should consider the number and nature of all arrests and calls for service. To clearly demonstrate that a particular property serves as a significant crime location, officers should gather and compare information for all similar motels in the surrounding area. Agencies can use an effective tool, the calls-for-service-per-room (CFS/room) ratio, to determine a property's rate of crime;in making this calculation, officers add the number of calls for service and self-initiated arrests for a 1-year period and divide the total by the number of rooms at the motel. (3)

Examination of the Property

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