As economics and technology have evolved away from financially benefiting motor lodges and budget motels in Chula Vista, CA, some motels have gone from integral parts of the community to hubs of criminal activity. As their economic potential dwindles, owners/managers may become disengaged from the property, allowing “crime opportunists” to take hold. As a result, crimes, including narcotics, prostitution, and general disorder, become commonplace at these types of establishments.
Chula Vista opted for a multi-disciplinary, multi-tiered approach to combating the nuisance hotels, which focused on increasing place management. The project included three stages, each escalating in seriousness:
- Outreach to promote a voluntary change in property management behavior
- Code enforcement and public accountability
- Ordinance requiring permit for operation
- Will a multi-faceted approach reduce crime levels associated with budget motels?
- How effective are regulatory policies relative to the total project?
- If the crime is reduced, will the crime be displaced to similar places within a three-mile boundary?
The study’s experimental design included treatment, comparison, and displacement hotels. Displacement hotels were comparable motels located within a three mile radius of the treatment hotels. Comparison (control) hotels were comparable hotels in locations similar to the treatment area in neighboring cities ten or more miles away. This distance of chosen to reduce the chance of being affected by changes at the treatment and displacement hotels.
Call for service (CFS) rates included both officer and citizen initiated calls and were measured as the rate of calls per room. Assessment compared pre- and post-CFS rates of treatment hotels in order to measure the impacts of the permit ordinance alone (2005-2006/2007-2008) and the initiative as a whole (2004-2005/2008-2009). CFS rates for these time periods were also analyzed in the displacement group to determine if crime displacement had occurred, and if so, whether or not it occurred to a great degree than the crime reduction in the treatment hotels.
There were a few of potential limitations to this study.
- Due to the length of the study, it intersected with both an economic boom and an economic collapse. However, data showed that this most likely did not affect the project.
- There was a possibility that unbeknownst to the researchers, other police agencies could have implemented crime prevention programs in the areas where the displacement and comparison hotels were located.
- There was a low level of participation for the follow-up surveys, which could have been due to a change in how the surveys were conducted. Unlike the original surveys, follow-ups were conducted over the phone and with fewer questions.
- During the follow-up surveys, managers noted that calling the police to assist them with something could be counted against them as it related to permits. Researchers noted this could have led to a reduction in CFS counts.
The overall impact of this three-tiered program was positive. The “most troubled properties” saw a 68% reduction in crime, the mid-level properties saw a 36% reduction, and the “well-performing” properties maintained their low crime and disorder rates. These results were primarily only seen after the third tier (Permit Ordinance) was implemented. Little change occurred at the completion of the first two tiers of the project.
When CFS rates were examined for the displacement properties, there was no evidence of the project displacing crime to these motels.
Taking a more regulatory approach that targets multiple properties is more effective that approaches that target individual properties. This type of approach also results in more sustainable outcomes since ordinances will most likely continue after the project which implemented them ends. Also worth consideration, there were other benefits that occurred in addition to crime reduction, included:
- All motels that applied for operating permits by the end of the project past health inspections.
- All motels had peepholes and deadbolts installed on the guest room doors.
- The reduction in CFS led to a 51.2% reduction of Patrol time dedicated to CFS at motels.
The researchers note that there are five major considerations for undertaking this type of project:
- The property managers must have time to voluntarily develop and implement changes at the facilities.
- Quality communication is needed between stakeholders to ensure political support.
- Project staff must be stable.
- Developing partnerships with academic institutions can improve the amount and level of information available to understand and solve a problem.
- Varied methodology and measures can better capture the impact of a program and provide more compelling evidence regarding the change the program fostered.