Montrose Management District Takes A Bite Out of Crime
In the mid-2000s, when businessman Brad Nagar became chair of the public safety committee for the newly created Montrose Management District, Montrose had a reputation as one of Houston’s less savory neighborhoods. “There was a major crime problem in Montrose,” Nagar recalled. “Hyde Park had open prostitution. There was open drug dealing on almost every major corner, all night. Fairview in particular was a really bad experience—you could drive down the street any time after nine o’clock and there would be 10 or 12 guys hanging out on various corners.”
Houston Police Department officer Victor Beserra, who has patrolled the neighborhood for years, remembered a similar atmosphere. “We had a huge petty theft problem because of the number of people loitering in the area,” he said. “We had lots of public intoxication, lots of dumpster diving, lots of vandalism.”
One of Nagar’s first actions as public safety committee chair was to create the Montrose District Patrol: a team of off-duty police officers, led by Officer Beserra, that could focus on the neighborhood rather than responding to calls all over the city. Today the patrol comprises 16 HPD officers working an average of 580 hours a week. “HPD handles a lot of different kinds of activity, but our patrols are able to focus on some of the quality of life stuff that people aren’t necessarily calling in,” Nagar explained. “They’re able to observe situations and put a stop to them because they aren’t constantly dealing with calls.”
Soon after its creation, the patrol faced its first major challenge—a wave of robberies outside gay bars and clubs, as many as 25 a month, as Beserra recalled. After reviewing crime statistics, he deployed his officers to the worst-hit spots. It wasn’t long before they began having an impact. “For about two years we worked intensively on that,” Beserra said. “We hit it hard—we were arresting 100 people a month at one point.” Today, he estimated that there’s only about one robbery a month in that area.
In addition to creating the Montrose District Patrol, the management district launched a number of other public safety initiatives. The Mobile Security Camera Program provides commercial property owners with cameras to both deter crime and to allow after-the-fact investigations. Cameras are installed free of charge for 120 days, after which owners can pay $350 per month to continue the service. The Graffiti Abatement Program allows business owners to report graffiti directly to the district through a dedicated website; on average, graffiti is cleaned within 2 to 4 business days. The district also contracts with SMC Logistics to provide bi-monthly streetlight inspections. Since the program’s inception in 2013, 157 burned out streetlights have been replaced.
One of the district’s lesser-known initiatives is the County Attorney Program, in which the district partners with the Harris County Attorney’s Office to shut down “businesses in the area that are creating an atmosphere that is less than desirable, or illegal,” as Nagar put it, “particularly bars and nightclubs that have recurring crimes associated with them, and the massage parlors.”
Largely as a result of the management district’s efforts, Montrose is no longer afflicted with the kind of petty crime that was once endemic. “You just don’t see any of that anymore—it’s pretty much nonexistent,” Nagar said. “There’s no open prostitution, there’s no open drug dealing.”
According to Beserra, the key to the dramatic reduction in crime was establishing relationships with local business owners. “You have to have relationships with people in the neighborhood, you have to,” he said. “The business owners are out there, they know what’s going on. There aren’t too many business owners in the district who don’t have my number. Sometimes they call me at three in the morning, but you know what? If we catch the suspect, that’s fine.”