New housing authority director ready to get tough on crime
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Dec 14, 2012 | 3662 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The new executive director of the Anniston Housing Authority is prepared to get tough on crime in public housing complexes, with measures to include the eviction of tenants involved in violent or drug-related crimes.

“From what I’m hearing, most of it is coming from the outside,” Sonny McMahand told the Board of Commissioners during his first public meeting with the group Thursday. “But at the same time we have residents on the inside in some of our communities that are allowing those individuals to come in. So, we have to target those individuals.”

After hearing from Anniston police Lt. Allen George that there were 88 reported incidents in the housing authority complexes and 21 arrests, the commissioners began discussing the crime problem.

George told them it’s not uncommon for victims in the complexes to decide not to press charges or for residents to refuse to talk to the police about crimes they have witnessed. He mentioned one incident in which a man holding his baby was chased out of his apartment by men with rifles. They fired multiple rounds at him, but the man refused to press charges, George said.

“I just cannot come to these meetings and hear that it’s a common occurrence to have people discharging firearms on our property and no suspects and no witnesses,” said Commissioner David Dethrage. “We have got to be able to put eyes on this mess.”

Dethrage suggested installing some kind of surveillance equipment on the grounds of the complexes. He also suggested the police officers make an effort to meet with the residents in social situations to build relationships with them.

“I would like to see our reports include some demonstration that the officers are actually reaching out to the residents and establishing a good rapport with those folks,” said Dethrage, a former Anniston mayor.

McMahand told the commissioners he will be making some changes. Currently, the police provide a weekly list of incidents to the property managers and a monthly report to commissioners. McMahand requested a daily report. Criminal activity is a lease violation, meaning residents can be evicted from their apartments for being involved, and federal law allows housing authorities the option of expediting eviction for violent drug-related criminal activity, McMahand said.

“You can actually give a three-day notice,” he said.

He also said he will be looking into hiring a private company that can do a national background check on prospective tenants. Currently the housing authority relies on the Anniston Police Department to do the background checks, a process which takes two to three weeks, according to Geraldine Allen, the authority’s director of operations.

McMahand was concerned about how long it took to receive the background checks and also wondered if it was just local records being checked.

He has already begun trying to increase security. McMahand on Wednesday met with the resident council, a 15-member body of residents representing all the public housing communities, and talked with them about safety in the complexes. The residents had some ideas about how to stop the crime. McMahand also told them what he expected of them.

“A big part of what we talked about is the fact that we need them to help us,” McMahand said.

Any plan moving forward will incorporate the residents’ ideas, the commissioners’ ideas and partnership with the police department, McMahand said.

“We’ve got to partner to resolve some of those issues,” McMahand said. “We’ll use a combination of surveillance cameras, community policing, resident policing, enforcing the lease, a number of different strategies.”

The board’s next meeting will be Dec. 20 at 3 p.m.

Staff Writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
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