Once Troubled Housing Complex Reflects A Reshaping Borough

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Once troubled housing complex reflects a reshaping borough

Updated ; Posted Crime drops significantly in Glassboro558.JPG Glassboro police officers Mindy Knight and Ken Kuzniase talking to each other in their patrol cars at the Whitney Crescent apartment complex on Ellis Mill Road in Glassboro. The complex used to be the notoriously troubled Bentley Woods, which had long frustrated residents with drugs and crime. Stricter policies at the complex is among the measures officials say has transformed it to the place it is today. (Spencer Kent | For NJ.com) (Spencer Kent | For NJ.com)

By Spencer Kent

skent@njadvancemedia.com,

NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

GLASSBORO — Kiesha Moore remembers what it was like at the Bentley Woods apartments several years ago.

She wasn't a resident then, but she — like many in the community — was aware of the trouble that went on at the affordable housing complex on Ellis Mill Road. It was a magnet for crime, drugs and police.

The borough has made a dramatic improvement in its crime rate in the last 10 years — but nowhere has it been more evident than at the former Bentley Woods property — which is now called the Whitney Crescent apartments after it was torn down and rebuilt about four years ago.

"It's much quieter," said Moore, who has been living at the Whitney Crescent for the past three years. "It was horrible."

Standing in the back of the complex, Moore smiled and nodded hello at a police officer driving slowly by — a regular sight from increased patrols in recent years.

In the back parking lot, Glassboro police officers Mindy Knight and Ken Kuzniasz said incidents at the complex have continued to drop. In fact, police and emergency calls have declined nearly 63 percent since 2004, according to data from the Glassboro Police Department. Last year, police received no calls for narcotics, gunshot wounds, weapons and SWAT — which is a stark contrast to the 20 calls received for these kinds of incidents in 2004.

The proliferation of change

The improvement in the crime rate extends beyond the apartment complex.

Today, Moore said she not only feels safe around her residence but the borough in general — which has also seen a significant decrease in crime. From 2006 to 2012, violent crime in the borough fell about 43 percent with a nearly 20 percent drop in nonviolent criminal activity in that same period. Overall, the borough has experienced a roughly 21 percent reduction in crime, which is four times the decrease countywide and twice the statewide average, according to data provided by the Glassboro Police Department.

Glassboro officials have a few theories on the decrease, but one that stands at the top is the stronger community partnerships between police and managers of local apartment complexes.

Partnering with an iron fist

Borough police Chief Alex Fanfarillo said the new management at the complex — Lawrenceville-based Community Investment Strategies (CIS) — has been an incredible partner with the police department and that strategies like stricter rental policies, background checks, and stricter eviction policies are among new initiatives reshaping the property.

Many Bentley Woods tenants with criminal records were kicked out while others were relocated to other developments in South Jersey through affordable housing vouchers. Many tenants, however, were able to stay at the new complex.

"They've put their foot down," Fanfarillo said, adding that CIS has made it clear to residents: "You're going to follow the rules" or risk the management's no-tolerance eviction policy.

"We ban visitors if they do something bad. We even ban their friends," said Fanfarillo.

MORE: 6 cool things about Rowan's new oddly shaped student-housing complex

This new "banning program" that the police department implemented at the complex in 2004 has been very successful in reducing criminal and drug activity, Fanfarillo said.

Non-resident visitors who either caused trouble or had violent or drug arrest histories were banned.

Once banned, they can be arrested on sight if they return to the complex.

The police department also has a full-time community service officer dedicated to improving communication between apartment complex managers and residents, offering assistance whenever possible to give "a little more personal touch," as Fanfarillo described.

The officer is also responsible for connecting apartment housing managers with one another to identify any problems.

Crime drops significantly in Glassboro562.JPG>Peggy Scantling, 69, a longtime resident of the Whitney Crescent apartment complex on Ellis Mill Road in Glassboro. The complex used to be the notoriously troubled Bentley Woods, which had long frustrated residents with drugs and crime. Stricter policies at the complex are among the measures officials say transformed it to the place it is today. (Spencer Kent | For NJ.com)Spencer Kent | For NJ.com

Police patrolling — too much?

Longtime Whitney Crescent resident Peggy Scantling, 69, who had lived at Bentley Woods, feels the reduction in incidents at the complex has its downside.

She recognizes the improvement, but said there's been such an increase in police patrols that it can often feel like "living in a jail cell."

She said it's easy to get a hold on crime when you have "police here 24-7."

Her son was placed on the ban list after getting into a loud argument with his girlfriend — he has since been unable to visit her.

"You've got some who can't even come and visit (their family)," Scantling said.

Investment for a growing university

Rowan University has been growing exponentially over the years, and it has become the center point of the borough.

As Rowan continues to increase its foothold in the community, a strong relationship between the university and borough has never been so important.

Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona said: "Over the years, as we have grown, they (Glassboro) has grown. We do a lot together; there's more interaction and more partnerships on and off campus."

One partnership that has grown somewhat closer is between the borough police and Rowan police.

Cardona said of the university police force has a much stronger presence in the community.

The borough has also implemented aggressive economic development policies over the past 10 years and is continuing its mission to revitalize Rowan Boulevard — a once impoverished area near the Rowan University campus — into a new downtown. To accomplish this, the borough has partnered with private developers and invested roughly $350 million into rebuilding the area into a thriving business district.

It's the little things

Glassboro Administrator Joe Brigandi, who grew up in the borough and remembers its "troubled days" — full of impoverished housing developments, fleeing business, and pockets of pervasive crime and drugs — says there is a new perception taking hold, both inside and outside the community.

Brigandi said one key component that often gets left out has been the borough's increase in code enforcement — often described as the "broken windows theory." This includes addressing smaller items like stricter enforcement on property owners, installing more lights, security cameras — all of which he said make a huge difference to the overall safety and quality of life in the community.

"Quality of life is so important," Brigandi said.

The owners of the Bentley Woods, he noted, allowed the property to decline and didn't care about the importance of having a relationship with police or the community.

"The owners back then didn't care," Brigandi said. "They just cared about collecting rent."

Reducing crime by design

Police have also implemented a "multi-disciplinary approach" called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) — which aims to deter criminal behavior by altering the landscape of business districts, shopping centers, parks, housing developments, and others.

The program addresses the "landscaping, lighting and signage, building design, or an entire neighborhood" of properties to "influence" criminals' decisions.

Other measures include increased patrols, more alarms and detection devices, improved locks and lighting, and private security personnel, according to a statement from the borough police department.

Spencer Kent may be reached at skent@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerMKent. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.

Scenes from South Jersey, Sept. 20-Oct. 3
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Source : http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2015/11/stark_crime_drop_in_once_troubled_nj_borough.html

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