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Aggravated addresses: Apartment complexes draw police attention

On the afternoon of March 10, 2014, two boys walked past a unit at a south Oklahoma City apartment complex and saw a man stabbing a woman in a wheelchair.

The boys ran across the street to a church, where they told a staff member what they had seen.

Police who responded to the incident found a very drunk woman in the apartment, blood from her head pooling on the kitchen floor. Paramedics took her by ambulance to a hospital. Police photographed the apartment, spoke to several neighbors and left without making an arrest.

The stabbing was just one of a string of assaults in recent years at Country Club Apartments, a 189-unit complex at 5700 S. Agnew. From 2011 to 2016, police responded to and confirmed 72 aggravated assaults or assaults with a deadly weapon, more than any other address in Oklahoma City, according to an analysis of police records by The Oklahoman.

Police characterize those as the most serious forms of assault.

Under state law, an aggravated assault occurs "when great bodily injury is inflicted," or is against "one who is aged, decrepit, or incapacitated."

The Oklahoman's analysis focused on assaults by street address, meaning an apartment complex or other multitenant building in which each unit has its own street address might appear farther down the list than those in which an entire apartment complex has a single address.

The analysis didn't include lower-level simple assaults.

Although Country Club saw the most such calls of any address during that period, the problem isn't unique to the complex or the south side. Of the 20 most common city addresses for such 911 calls, 11 were apartment complexes. Several of the top-10 locations are clustered near NW 122 and N Pennsylvania Avenue.

Police say a number of factors, including a heavy concentration of residents and poor design, often drive violent crime in apartment complexes. But there are steps owners and managers can take to make their communities safer, said Maj. Dexter Nelson, commander of the Oklahoma City Police Department's Hefner Division.

“Crime is like water,” Nelson said. “It's going to go to where there's least resistance.”

From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma City police confirmed 11,700 aggravated assaults and assaults with a deadly weapon at 8,337 addresses across the city, according to Oklahoma City police records. About 82 percent of those addresses saw only one such assault during that six-year period.

But a handful of locations saw far more. In addition to the apartments, the top 20 is an eclectic mix.

Four hospitals — OU Medical Center, Southwest Medical Center, St. Anthony Medical Center and Deaconess Hospital — rank high on the list. That's because police use the hospitals' addresses for injured victims who show up for treatment.

Also ranking in the top 20 were the Oklahoma Gentlemen's Club on NW 10; OK Corral, a nightclub on N. MacArthur Avenue; Burntwood Court Mobile Home Park in southeast Oklahoma City; a Wal-Mart store at 6100 W Reno Ave.; and Penn Square Mall.

Tough to police

Management at Country Club Apartments declined repeated interview requests. In an emailed statement, apartment manager Kathy Love said the security of tenants is important to Country Club and that she had not had enough time to review the records that were the basis for this article.

Love said it was unfair to compare the number of aggravated assaults and assaults with a deadly weapon at Country Club, where all 189 units are listed at a single address, to other apartment complexes where each unit has its own street address.

Still, at 72 aggravated assaults, Country Club far outdistanced the single-address apartment complex with the second most confirmed assaults, Wentwood at MacArthur, a 295-unit complex at 5001 NW 10, which recorded 29 such assaults during the same period.

Nelson, the police commander, said the kinds of violent crime that take place in apartment complexes can be difficult to prevent. In public places, regular police patrols can help keep criminals at bay, he said. But officers can't be with residents in their homes, so they're generally only able to respond to crimes like domestic violence after they happen rather than preventing them.

Those same crimes are often difficult to investigate after the fact, as well, he said. When a resident calls 911 to report a crime, officers generally stop by the reporting party's home first. Some apartment complex residents worry about their neighbors — particularly those who are connected to criminals — seeing them talking to police, Nelson said.

In many cases, he said, how effectively apartment complexes are managed can mean the difference between a safe or high-crime community.

Generally, when apartment complexes are new, owners and managers try to take good care of the properties and pay close attention to who their tenants are, he said. But as apartments age, they tend to change hands several times. In some cases, an out-of-state developer buys them and puts pressure on the local management to keep their apartments full, even if it means bending rules about background checks, he said.

Doing it right

Oklahoma City Police Master Sgt. Robert Henderson said apartment managers can help keep their properties safe simply by maintaining them.

For example, keeping hedges and bushes trimmed and installing white- instead of amber-colored outdoor lights can help residents see better at night, Henderson said. Better visibility helps discourage would-be criminals and also gives residents a better chance of describing lawbreakers to police.

For the past few years, Oklahoma City police have worked with apartment managers to deter crime using an approach called crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED, Henderson said. The approach includes attention to a number of environmental factors, including the strategic use of trees and hedges, well-placed lighting and other features designed to improve visibility and make would-be criminals feel that someone may be watching.

Kay Bale is somebody who's doing it right, police said.

Bale, property supervisor of Mulberry Parke and Portland Parke apartments in northwest Oklahoma City, said she implemented a number of those crime prevention strategies after the current ownership and management took over the properties in 2013 and 2015. They worked to clear out residents who hadn't been paying rent, revamped the rundown properties and had residents sign crime-free lease addendums.

In 2015, Bale attended a weeklong CPTED training and gained valuable insight about ways to deter crime. Later, she sent her maintenance staff to the same type of training, because, she said, “who better to have eyes on your community” than the people who have daily, one-on-one interactions with residents?

Simple actions, like installing lighting and signage and keeping hedges trimmed low and tree branches trimmed high so people have a clear view, make a huge difference, Bale said. She said managers and owners have a responsibility to help ensure the safety of their residents.

“We are the direct link to our residents,” Bale said. “We're the ones that advertise to bring them in. We're the ones that vet them to see that they're a good fit for our area, that they meet our criteria, that they are a good representation of our apartment communities, and in turn, they have a right to feel safe. That's our responsibility to do what we can.”

Developing a reputation

Lang Wiseman makes a living off dangerous apartment complexes. The Memphis-based lawyer focuses on negligent security cases, including cases dealing with apartment crime. Wiseman said not all crime can be deterred, but apartment owners and managers should provide reasonable security measures to prevent foreseeable crime.

“You create an atmosphere at your facility or your complex, and criminals know what that atmosphere is,” he said. “They don't want to get caught, and so if they're choosing where they're going to commit their crime, they're going to select the place where they believe they have the best likelihood of committing a crime and getting away.”

For the most part, criminals are opportunistic, Wiseman said. They look for places they can get in and out of easily, places that are dark and have overgrown vegetation or places that have a history of people getting away with crime.

He cited one case his firm handled involving a shooting at an apartment complex in which a trio of criminals had targeted the apartment complex because they knew the security gates weren't working, the lighting was bad and there was no security guard working overnight.

“Properties develop reputations in their communities,” Wiseman said.

Reaching out

Chase Parsons wasn't surprised to hear that a south Oklahoma City apartment complex recorded the highest number of assaults.

“You've got a lot of depression in this area,” said Parsons, external relations director for the Oklahoma City Dream Center, a nonprofit organization that conducts outreach work in the community. “You've got a lot of hopelessness."

"For some of them, it's hard to see past that or see anything but that,” he said.

Children who live in the area come to Inner City Church, where the OKC Dream Center is located, looking to see what kind of activities are taking place on any given day, Parsons said.

The church has become their safe place. Children who come to the church have shared stories about seeing a knife fight outside their apartment or seeing someone unloading a gun in the courtyard, he said. It's the same church the two boys ran to after seeing the elderly woman stabbed at Country Club Apartments.

“You never know what you're going to hear, but you know that it's more of the reason why we've become the safe place because they come here to get away from that,” Parsons said.

About four years ago, the Oklahoma City Dream Center started an outreach program called Adopt-a-Block. On Saturday mornings, volunteers go out into the surrounding community, including Country Club Apartments, to pick up trash and build relationships with residents. In doing so, they also are able to help connect local residents with resources that are available through Inner City Church and the Oklahoma City Dream Center.

Rhonda Carroll and her husband moved into the apartment complex with their daughters, ages 9 and 11, a little more than two months ago.

“We've gotten used to the siren sounds,” she said. “It's like usually almost every day either police or ambulances or fire trucks.”

Carroll, who volunteers at Inner City Church, said she was leery about moving to Country Club Apartments. But now that her family has been at the complex for a while, she said they like it. Many of the people who live at Country Club go to Inner City Church, and Carroll, who said the church is like her second home, enjoys being able to connect with them on a different level.

“We feel like God put us there for a reason,” she said. “Who knows, maybe to help some of the people or be able to talk to them and stuff like that, but we believe that he put us there for a reason.”

During the day, Carroll likes to walk her dog and talk to people in the complex. But once it's dark, she said she mostly stays inside. The sounds of screaming and fighting, especially at night, worry her. Several times, she's heard gunshots.

Some residents want change, Carroll said. Others don't care. Mostly, she feels sorry for the children who live at the apartment complex.

“Some of the parents do drugs or drink or fight, and the kids are right there and they witness all of that,” Carroll said. “That kind of breaks your heart a little bit.”

Related coverage

Nonprofit reaches out to apartment residents, others in south Oklahoma City

Related Photos
<p>From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma City police responded to and confirmed 72 aggravated assaults or assaults with a deadly weapon at Country Club Apartments, according to an analysis of police records. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]</p>

From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma City police responded to and confirmed 72 aggravated assaults or assaults with a deadly weapon at Country Club Apartments, according to an analysis of police records. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma City police responded to and confirmed 72 aggravated assaults or assaults with a deadly weapon at Country Club Apartments, according to an analysis of police records. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] " title=" From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma City police responded to and confirmed 72 aggravated assaults or assaults with a deadly weapon at Country Club Apartments, according to an analysis of police records. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma City police responded to and confirmed 72 aggravated assaults or assaults with a deadly weapon at Country Club Apartments, according to an analysis of police records. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›

Darla Slipke

Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›

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