When a woman drove a Lexus SUV through Fruitridge and Power Inn Road earlier this year, there were no obvious signs that it was hot and teaming with drugs. Within moments a police observation device returned a hit on the stolen vehicle, and Sacramento Police Department Officer Patrick Mulligan had her pulled over.
The woman not only had heroin, methamphetamine and prescription drugs in the SUV stolen out of Elk Grove, Mulligan says, but she was also sitting on a loaded .357 magnum. In an unplanned turn of events between the police and Atlas Disposal, a business member of the Power Inn Alliance, a garbage truck blocked the stolen SUV’s path, and Mulligan made a bust.
“You cannot roll through our area in a stolen car without us knowing about it,” says Mulligan, who since 1990 has been the beat officer for area 6C — one of three beats in District 6 and one of the largest in the city.
But this hyperawareness and quick response by law enforcement hasn’t always been the case. Twenty-six years ago, when Mulligan started working in the area, crimes such as prostitution, narcotics and other vices largely went unnoticed during non-business hours, Mulligan says. The 6.2-square mile area in the southeastern quadrant of Sacramento was once isolated, had little communication with police enforcement and lacked a uniform voice such as a business or crime watch association.
“We would have trouble migrate out there that would go undetected,” Mulligan says. “It was almost a guessing game as to what was going on.”
Home to more than 10,000 businesses and more than 62 percent of the city’s manufacturers, the district serves as Sacramento’s manufacturing core. It covers a mix of commercial and residential space, includes multiple traffic thoroughfares and about 50,000 people.
In 2007, a property-based business improvement district, or PBID, was formed at the request of property and business owners. A PBID is a private initiative that manages and improves the business district environment, funded by self-imposed taxes. There are 11 in Sacramento, and this district’s Power Inn Alliance is the largest. The advocacy group has developed a close working relationship with SPD, and today serves as a hub of information and communication that tracks the pulse of the area.
“People feel more comfortable calling and reporting issues, which gives police a better sense of what’s happening in the area,” says Dawn Carlson, Power Inn Alliance’s community programs manager who works closely with Mulligan to empower businesses to report and deter criminal activity. “That’s what makes the area better, is people watching out for each other.”
At a recent “Crime and Dine” lunch with the SPD’s bomb squad, Power Inn Alliance members had face-time with law enforcement and each other, and watched bomb detonation demonstrations. Business owners raised concerns about common issues, including illegal dumping, trespassing and break-ins by the landfill, and homeless camps. Law enforcement offered advice on the best ways to combat these problems, and provided heads-up on current crime trends.
According to Power Inn Alliance Executive Director Tracey Schaal, areas served by a property and business improvement district are significantly cleaner and safer than those without an advocating voice. “The PBID mechanism is the boots-to-the-ground organization that is out there every day,” Schaal says. “We feel really fortunate to have the close relationship we do with Sac PD, because we wouldn’t be as effective in our area without that alliance.”
And businesses with such a support network have a greater capacity to thrive, Schaal says. For example, the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design program, which Carlson is trained in, has impacted how properties are improved or built to prevent crime, Schaal says. “It’s a unique way to look at a commercial building and consider factors that would make it a target,” she says.
Recently a small shopping center was drawing in suspicious activity, which incited complaints. The out-of-town property owner wasn’t keeping regular tabs on the shopping center, and didn’t realize the pitfalls that made the property a target, Schaal says. Carlson and a member of the SPD identified changes that would make it less desirable for criminal and suspicious activity, and the owner implemented these changes, such as adding lighting and motion detectors, pruning trees and cutting bushes back.
“The ironic thing is his property will be more valuable,” Schaal says. “And it’s win for the tenants, because they will feel safer.”
Atlas Disposal CEO Nick Sikich joined the Power Inn Alliance early on, and has seen a difference in the beautification of the area thanks to clean-up crews that target hot spots twice a month. This includes homeless camps that periodically pop up, dumped hazardous waste and the occasional couch and tires. “You name it, people are too lazy to go to the landfill so they toss it,” Sikich says.
False security alarm incidents have also been decreased, Sikich says, as a private security company checks the situation before calling in an officer, which helps free up police from false alarm responses.
Schaal says business owners are paying attention to the PIA, which in 2015 was awarded the SPD’s Business Partner of the Year award.
“Our area is going through, what I’d say is a significant transition,” Schaal says, noting that the industrial and manufacturing hub of the city has a significant investment in real estate and equipment. “So as people talk about manufacturing being critical to the economy, having a good partnership with law enforcement is critical.”