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City’s Remedial Action Program connects landlords, police

SALISBURY — Two years ago, the City Council passed an ordinance that was initially met with suspicion by Salisbury landlords.

Now, the Rental Property Remedial Action Program, or RAP, is seen as a way to connect rental property owners with the Salisbury Police Department to know what criminal or disorderly activity is happening on their properties. A team effort by the city’s Housing Advocacy Commission and the Police Department created the program to notify property owners of the problems.

RAP coordinator Karen Barbee-Ziegler, who is retired from the Police Department, said the program allows the police to tell landlords that officers were active at their properties and to call the department for advice on how to promote safety. She said some landlords simply did not know about criminal activity at their properties.

“We have a lot of landlords that live elsewhere, and a lot of them that I have talked to say, ‘Well, I had no idea; they just pay their rent.’ And they’re very receptive,” Barbee-Ziegler said.

“We had one incident where there was some renovations going on and there was some disorder activity going on next door, and of course the landlord had no idea,” Barbee-Ziegler said. “It was a lot of disorder-type things — a lot of loud noises, a lot of loud music, a lot of arguing, just a lot of things.”

Barbee-Ziegler looks at police calls and compiles a weekly report, looking at a three-month period. The calls are categorized in four levels. Level 1 is a homicide or a violent, close-to-death injury, which automatically puts the property in the RAP system. Level 2 is a domestic disturbance, drug sale or warrant service. Level 3 may be a trespasser, and Level 4, a suspicious vehicle.

She said the report is on a case-by-case basis, and she will investigate to ensure the call is connected to the rental property.

“I think that’s what people were afraid of in the beginning, that they were going to get taxed with things that didn’t actually happen,” Barbee-Ziegler said.

When the landlords are contacted, they come in for a consultation and suggestions and are given a chance to improve.

“If you’ve have a problem and it’s fixed, then we’re moving on,” Barbee-Ziegler said. “We’ve cleared the slate.”

Barbara Perry, chairwoman of the Housing Advocacy Commission, said the commission was tasked with writing an ordinance because calls were escalating in the certain neighborhoods and several property managers said they felt they could not do anything to stop the criminal activity.

One property manager said, “We’re not in the eviction business, but we can’t evict anybody unless they don’t pay their rent. And we’re constantly being called by the police because of activity, and we can’t do anything about it,” Perry said.

With RAP, landlords can voluntarily sign up to get emails when there is activity at their properties, even if the police are simply patrolling the area. A manual was put together to give suggestions about how to improve the safety, including better lighting, adding gates and doing background checks on potential tenants through the state prison system.

“A lot of people don’t know how to be a landlord,” Barbee-Ziegler said. “There’s no certification, so to speak, and you have a lot of people who maybe their parents have passed away and they’ve inherited a house. They’ll say, ‘Let’s rent the house.’ But (they) live in Washington, D.C., and have no idea what’s going on.”

Deputy Police Chief Shon Barnes said some landlords manage the renters and not the property and it’s slow to get corporations to buy into tools to make the property safer because it would cost more money.

At first, Barbee-Ziegler and Perry said RAP was met with apprehension as landlords thought it was to single them out.

“It became evident that this was not interference,” Perry said. “It was a tool for the police.”

Barnes said RAP follows SARA, which stands for “scan” to see the problem, “analyze” the data, “response” to the problem and “assessment” of whether the response is effective. He added another “S” for “sustainability” so when police officers leave they can continue using the tools.

Barnes said the biggest benefit of the Remedial Action Program is early detection.

“It prevents crimes before they happen,” Barnes said.

He said generally there are signs that always precede crime.

RAP is still in its beginning stages, and Barbee-Ziegler is open to feedback and suggestions. Barnes hopes to see more rental property owners sign up for RAP.

To sign up for the program, visit salisburync.gov/Government/Police/Residential-Action-Program. For more information, contact Barbee-Ziegler at 704-638-7586 or kbarb@salisburync.gov or Barnes at shon.barnes@salisburync.gov.

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