Letting in touch with apartment owners isn't always easy, said Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
"We, the City of Tulsa, really don't have a way to reach out and contact owners that live out of state, other than by phone and email, if we have a problem," Bartlett said. When the city does reach out with questions or concerns, "sometimes they are either ignored or are minimally addressed," he said.
In the aftermath of the Jan. 7 shooting deaths of four women at Fairmont Terrace apartments near East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue, Bartlett is proposing what amounts to a new permit requirement to operate an apartment.
Since August, six fatal shootings have taken place at the 336-unit Fairmont Terrace complex, owned by California-based SolRey Properties. While the site has a gate and on-site security -- still criticized as lax by some tenants -- it's in a neighborhood filled with several other apartment complexes also recognized as crime hot spots.
Bartlett's plan is "to require that if anybody does own and operate a residential rental apartment unit or complex, that they must get a permit from the City of Tulsa to do that," he said.
Likening the idea to the state's authority to license liquor store owners, Bartlett described it as a way to ensure apartments meet certain standards.
"When that permit is granted, there will be some requirements that will be required of an owner and operator insofar as it deals with cleanliness, safety issues, tenant issues," Bartlett said.
The plan would likely require a city ordinance and thus city council approval, he said.
Just as state authorities can yank the license of a liquor store operator, so too could the city take action against apartment owners.
"If we have the ability to take away their license to do business, then that should be sufficient enough to get someone's attention if they're not abiding by rules and regulations," Bartlett said.
Bartlett's plan is but one reaction to the shooting deaths and a surge in homicides to start the year, with eight murders tallied as of press time.
On Jan. 17, a gathering of spiritual leaders will tackle some of the thorny questions related to gun violence.
Planned in advance of the Jan. 7 shooting deaths, the meeting's focus has shifted somewhat since it was conceived in reaction to the Newtown, Conn. school shootings.
The Tulsa violence "just intensified the sense of urgency, that we can do at least what we can as people of faith to address the issues involved with gun violence and violence of all kinds, basically," said Rev. Todd Freeman, pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church.
The gathering at his church is being organized by Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry. Topics will include gun control, but Rev. Ray Hickman, the ministry's executive director, said he expects "a conversation that deals with education, health care, poverty, gangs, with other environmental issues that affect people."
Addressing the problem of violence as a community was also the focus of Chief Chuck Jordan in comments made to city councilors on Jan. 10.
"We encourage and solicit any community help we can get," Jordan told councilors. Councilor G.T. Bynum, whose district includes the Fairmont Terrace apartments, asked what Tulsans could do to help the police.
Jordan emphasized the need for people in the community to speak out.
"Without a doubt, we're trying to transition into a primarily intelligence-led policing organization. Intelligence takes information from the public. We don't want to find out about the bad guys after they've committed a violent crime," Jordan said.
Hickman noted that the effects of such a crime extend beyond those directly affected. The four women killed, 23-year-old Rebeika Powell, her twin sister, Kayetie Powell Melchor, 33-year-old Misty Nunley, and 55-year-old Julie Jackson, leave behind family and friends, including Powell's three-year-old son who was found alive at the crime scene.
"Economically, it puts that whole area in a position that it may be unpopular, unsafe," Hickman said, adding, "That's not helpful for city growth. ... That's not what Tulsa wants as far as a reputation."
Bynum proposed creating a "public safety intelligence working group," which met for the first time Tuesday, Jan. 15.
Jordan said he is "amenable to any kind of information gathering we can get that would give us more intelligence."
Technology didn't come up in the conversation, but it may in future discussions about intelligence.
Last year, the Oklahoma City Council approved the purchase of 16 license plate scanners for use mounted on patrol cars. This year, Dallas approved the purchase of 28 such readers, with plans to use them on patrol cars but also "in fixed locations in high crime areas," according to The Dallas Morning News.
Such technology, when paired with electronic databases, spots stolen cars and vehicles registered to people with outstanding warrants, for example.
"The success of the system is predicated on what databases are utilized by the police department," said Bryan Sturgill, who works in the marketing department of 3M, which recently acquired one manufacturer of such equipment, PIPS Technology.
Officer Leland Ashley, a spokesman for the Tulsa Police Department, said in an interview that the department is in the early stages of considering such equipment. Often, cities apply for federal grant money to pay for the units. The 3M equipment starts at about $13,000 per fixed unit, according to a sales official with the company.
"We have not identified a vendor to even get their product to test," Ashley said.
Whether such technology can actually lower crime remains in doubt, as researchers with George Mason University in 2010 reported they were unable to document a reduction in crime in spots where such technology is in place.
Other cities have attempted to tackle the problem of apartment complex crime. Houston police train apartment owners and managers in an eight-hour classroom course, then award a "Blue Star" designation to propewwrties which also meet other requirements based on a review of "lighting, perimeter fencing, landscaping, on-site security crime prevention efforts, and tenant screening procedures," according to the HPD website.
The Houston Chronicle reported in July that only 63 complexes had earned the designation since 2005 through the voluntary program.It remains to be seen what sort of lasting changes might result in Tulsa from the recent wave of violence, but one thing seems clear: "There are people in the community that do care," Freeman said.
Anyone with information about the Fairmont Terrace shootings may call anonymously at 918-596-COPS. To speak with a detective, call 918-596-9133.
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