Security upgrades reduce crime at two hotels
Management at a South Silver Spring hotel that has been a haven for crime is complying with a security overhaul mandated by county law enforcement and has seen slight decreases in crime since December.
After a six-month, state-funded police surveillance detail last year at the Days Inn and Travelodge motels at 8040 13th St., hotel management has added a new camera system, rigid parking restrictions, criminal background checks on guests and will begin training sessions for hotel staff.
Between 2005 and May 2008, police made 178 arrests stemming from incidents at the hotels, including drug trafficking, sexual assault, illegal possession of firearms and a child prostitution ring.
The security overhaul was the result of the threatened use of a Maryland statute — called a Nuisance Abatement Complaint — that allows a State's Attorney's Office or neighborhood association to file a complaint against a commercial property that is the site of frequent drug-related crime. The complaint can be reviewed in District Court and a judge can order the seizure of the property.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said the complaint could still be in play if the hotel reverts back to criminal activity. But, he said, he is pleased with the hotel's cooperation.
"We are never interested in seizing public properties," McCarthy said in a phone interview Monday. "We don't want to be motel owners, but we wanted to make sure they have been good citizens that would cooperate with police."
The most drastic change has been management's agreement to hand over to police the complete hotel guest list for Thursdays through Saturdays to identify any criminals and keep better records for investigating crime. In respect to guests' privacy, measures were made to ensure police only received information that would be helpful in stopping crime, said Tom DeGonia, an attorney representing property owners at the hotel.
"We have an obligation to our clients and to the public to make sure we aren't violating the law or anybody's privacy," said DeGonia, of the Washington, D.C., law firm Venable. DeGonia would not comment further on the legal aspects of the guest list reviews.
The hotel's manager, Joseph Oden, who was hired in September after previous hotel management had not cooperated with law enforcement, deferred to DeGonia for comment.
The most noticeable security measure for nearby residents has been the presence of a private security car monitoring 13th Street on weeknights, said Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association. Additionally, all cars in the parking lot must be registered to a guest and Third District police make occasional sweeps of the lot to check for stolen cars.
"It has automatically felt a little safer on the street," Glass said.
Training programs for hotel staff on how to recognize drug paraphernalia in the rooms after rentals are being planned, McCarthy said.
McCarthy did not disclose numbers on the drop in crime over the past few months at the hotel. He would only say there was a slight decrease. However, part of that drop could be due to a decrease in rentals during the winter because management has closed some of the outer hotel rooms until the spring, said Assistant State's Attorney Maura Lynch.
It's possible crime could increase back to previous levels in the spring, but law enforcement will increase surveillance accordingly, Lynch said.
"[We want to] get the message on the street that if you come here and do something bad you will get arrested," Lynch said, noting the improved evidence gathering and prosecution success that will come with the security measures. "We might see a rise in arrests."
There were 16 arrests made during the six-month detail between January and July of 2008, with about 22 grams of marijuana, 13.2 grams of cocaine and 55 grams of other illegal drugs seized between January and March. McCarthy said those numbers were actually lower than they could have been because the detail focused on surveillance as much as enforcement.
Within the Police Responding Area around the Days Inn hotel, 87 drug arrests, 13 arrests for assault and 14 arrests for vice law violations, which include prostitution, were made between July and December.