When the Five Corners Management District was established in 2010, one of its all-volunteer board’s first challenges was to improve public safety in the neighborhood. They started with the simple things—replacing broken street lights, cleaning up graffiti, removing bandit signs. “In the past, graffiti would be up for months and months, with no attention,” said Vernon Smith, the board’s chairperson of public safety. “Now it’s gone in a matter of days. The City of Houston doesn’t have the resources to deal with that, so that’s where we come in.”
Over the past five years the district has removed graffiti from around 2,500 sites, reported 2,000 broken street lights, taken down over 12,000 bandit signs, and removed almost 75,000 tons of trash. “People notice the difference—they’ve commented on everything from the graffiti to the litter abatement to the fact that bandit signs are removed quickly,” Smith added. “That gives people a comfort factor, and it lets citizens know that we’re not going to tolerate that in Five Corners.”
Of course, painting over graffiti and picking up trash only goes so far. To address more serious crime, the district hired the elite S.E.A.L security agency to patrol the district in specially marked cars and develop relationships with local business owners. Since being hired, S.E.A.L. has logged 6,573 hours of crime prevention patrols and responded to over 200 business requests for help. The district hired S.E.A.L. because of its sterling reputation and its excellent relationship with the Houston Police Department. Jerry Lowry, a former HPD policeman who advises the district on public safety, said he’s been impressed by what he’s seen. “S.E.A.L. has a really high standard for their employees,” he said. “You not only get a security officer that’s armed and well-trained, but they have K9s with them and they have a marked-up, highly visible vehicle. And the level of service and interaction with HPD is excellent.”
The extra patrols are necessary, Smith said, because the HPD is stretched too thin to provide regular district patrols or to respond immediately to business complaints. “HPD only has so much availability, but the community sees S.E.A.L. riding around all day and all evening. So now when people have issues they’ll call S.E.A.L. rather than HPD, unless it’s something major.”
Judging by the city’s official crime statistics, the district’s crime-prevention strategy is working—between 2010 and 2014, total district-wide crime fell by nearly seven percent, including significant declines in the number of burglaries, BMVs, thefts, and auto crimes. Part of that decline is doubtless due to the installation of four mobile surveillance cameras that provide 24/7 recording of key areas of the district.
Contrary to misconceptions about South Houston, Five Corners remains significantly safer than the average Houston neighborhood, with 26 percent less crime per capita and 58 percent less crime per square mile than the city average. Houston City Councilmember Larry Green represents District K, which includes Five Corners, and worked closely with the Five Corners Management District to develop its public safety plan. When Green tells people who live in other parts of Houston how safe the district is, he often gets incredulous looks. “They’re shocked,” he said with a laugh. “They don’t believe it, so I have to show them the stats. They just don’t know, because the media only covers the negative. So that’s part of our challenge—to educate the city about this great area.”