Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of disorder at budget motels. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of disorder at budget motels, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Calls for Service and Crime Incidents

  • How many citizen- and police-initiated service calls does your agency handle at budget motels each year? Has the volume of the two types of calls changed over time?
  • What is the nature of the service calls and crime incidents at budget motels? Do certain types of calls and crimes occur more frequently at some properties?
  • What is the annual CFS/room ratio †; for each motel? Do the ratios vary significantly among similarly priced properties in the same neighborhood? (See www.chulavistapd.org/motels for an example of how these ratios can vary considerably, even among motels in the same several-block area. See www.chulavistapd.org/motels to obtain a chart template you can use to show the difference in CFS/room ratios for motels in your own jurisdiction. )

    † Annual budget-motel CFS/room ratios that include both citizen- and police-initiated calls generally range from 0.25 to 2.0, but some communities have properties—especially non-chain motels—with ratios of 11.0 or higher.

  • For what types of crimes have police made arrests at motels? Are certain types of arrests— especially drug or prostitution arrests—more common at some properties?
  • What crime and disorder problems have motels experienced but not reported?

Motel Management Practices

  • What specific management practices are in place at low-priced motels with annual CFS/room ratios below 1.0? Above 1.0? (Good management practices are described in the “Responses” section below. To download a copy of a survey you can use to interview motel managers, see www.chulavistapd.org/motels. )
  • Have CFS/room ratios changed over time, particularly with a change in property management?
  • Who owns the motel? Is it independently operated, part of a franchise, or corporately owned? Does the owner have other properties?

    † Obtaining information about a motel’s owner(s) and managers, as well as any other parties who have an interest in the motel (such as mortgage holders, ground-lease holders, and insurers), is critical to reducing problems at the motel. Property profiles, commonly known as “lot books,” list all parties with a financial interest in a motel. Lot books can often be obtained through city clerks who frequently contract with title search companies for this product. Professional skip-tracing search engines can supplement lot-book research by providing owner contact information, as well as information about tax liens on the property and civil suits against the owner(s).

  • Is the motel’s business license up to date?
  • How viable is the motel from a business perspective? How much money did the motel take in last year, and what was the average occupancy rate?†;

    † Local government finance departments can estimate gross receipts through transient occupancy taxes paid. The national average occupancy rate for overnight lodging was 64 percent in 2000, 60 percent in 2001, and 59 percent in 2002 and 2003 (American Hotel & Lodging Association 2004). A motel with 40 rooms, an occupancy rate of 60 percent, and an average nightly rate of $50 would have yearly gross receipts of $438,000 (40 rooms x 0.6 occupancy x $50 rate x 365 days).

  • How willing is the owner/manager to take responsibility for motel problems, and to work with police to address them?
  • Are there some security measures the manager would like to implement, but cannot due to cost, company policy, or zoning, planning, or fire code restrictions?
  • How many motels rent to guests for more than 30 consecutive days? How many and what percentage of current guests in each motel are long-term tenants?

Property Condition and Layout

  • What is the general condition of the motel’s rooms? Do they meet minimum standards of cleanliness, safety, and functionality?
  • What is the general condition of the motel’s exterior? Is it well landscaped and maintained?
  • How many entrances and exits are there to the motel grounds? Does all foot and vehicle traffic have to pass by the front office to access rooms or public areas, such as the pool? Are both vehicle and pedestrian access impeded by hedging or some other barrier? Is there a fence around the property’s perimeter, or is access controlled via a gate or other means?
  • How many entrances and exits are there to the motel building itself? Is access to the building limited by card keys or some other means? How quickly are card keys reprogrammed (e.g., immediately upon checkout, the day after checkout)?
  • Are there certain smaller areas/blind spots (nooks, hallways, parking lot sections, rooms at the back of the motel, etc.) that are particularly conducive to problem behaviors?

Victims

  • How concerned about problem motels are local business employees, residents, and other people who frequent the area? What problems have they seen or experienced? How concerned are motel employees and long-term tenants about problems at the properties?
  • How many employees and long-term tenants have been victimized by problem guests, and in what ways?
  • How much have problem motels lost due to theft of motel property from rooms, vandalism, and unpaid rentals?

Offenders

  • What percentage of the guests at individual motels live within 30 miles of them? What reasons do local guests or visitors give for frequenting the motels?
  • What are the probation/parole rates of guests at problem motels compared with those of guests at motels with low CFS/room ratios and those of the general population?
  • What percentage of arrestees at individual motels live within 30 miles of them? What reasons do problem guests (e.g., those who have been arrested or are on probation or parole) give for frequenting the motels with high CFS/room ratios? What do they find appealing about those motels? (See www.chulavistapd.org/motels to download a copy of a motel-user survey you can use to estimate user probation and parole rates, as well as provide insights into what attracts problem guests and visitors to specific motels.)

Current Responses

  • How does the police department currently address motel problems? How effective have the responses been over the long term?
  • How are other local government agencies—such as code enforcement, community development, health and sanitation, planning and zoning, city attorney’s office, fire, and finance—addressing motel problems?
  • What existing laws, ordinances, or regulations foster or constrain the ability of police and other city agencies to effectively address problems at budget motels?
  • Are financial lending institutions that hold notes on the motels aware of the problems, and if so, what actions, if any, have they taken to improve the situation?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to disorder at budget motels:

  • fewer citizen-initiated calls for service per room, for each property;†;

    † Although citizen-initiated calls (primarily those from motel employees) may increase during the transitional period—when a motel is improving management procedures and changing its reputation—they should ultimately decrease as the motel becomes more able to prevent and handle problems.

  • fewer crime incidents at motels;
  • less-serious crime incidents at motels;
  • fewer citizen-initiated calls for service and crime incidents in areas adjacent to problem motels;
  • reduced police time spent at motels;†;

    † Officer-initiated calls should decrease once the motels improve their management practices and/or control access to the property.

  • reduced concern about problem motels among neighboring businesses, residents, and others with a stake in reducing the problems;
  • reduced levels of visible disorder, such as loitering and graffiti, at problem motels;
  • increased tourist occupancy and decreased local occupancy at motels; and
  • increased number of motel rooms that meet minimum standards of cleanliness, safety, and functionality.