The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 2 | Issue 12 | December 2009

Chula Vista Wins Herman Goldstein Excellence in
Problem-Oriented Policing Award

Chula Vista Police Department Retired Sgt. David Eisenberg (L); Senior Public Safety Analyst 
Karin Schmerler, and Captain Don Hunter (R) receive the Herman Goldstein Excellence in 
Problem-Oriented Police Award from Professor Emeritus Herman Goldstein (second from right). This year at the 20th Annual International Problem-Oriented Policing Conference, the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing returned stateside, for the first time in 6 years, with the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) taking the top honors. The winning project focused on reducing motel crime and disorder, resulting in a 70 percent decrease in crime at motel properties.

This project was a multiyear effort that demonstrated the cyclical nature of problem solving and the SARA (scanning, analysis, response and assessment) process. Crime problems at the more than two dozen motels in Chula Vista, California, located between Mexico and San Diego, reached disturbing levels in the 1990s. In fact, it was the Chamber of Commerce that first brought the problem to the police department. Business leaders and policymakers were very concerned about the state of the city’s lodging industry, and visitors were hesitant to stay at local motels. While Chula Vista boasts an Olympic Training Center, the athletes stayed farther away, in San Diego, for safety reasons.

Initial analysis of the problem in 2001 focused on calls for service (CFS) in relation to motel rooms. This model was used because motel size ranged from 10 rooms to 176 rooms. Comparing CFS per room as opposed to CFS per property provided a better indication of the prevalence of crime problems and revealed that CFS varied considerably, even when properties were literally across the street from each other. An initial analysis revealed that 5 motels accounted for 24 percent of the Chula Vista motel rooms, but 55 percent of the approximately 1,200 CFS.

The project staff also interviewed motel guests at problem properties and learned that 75 percent of those questioned were residents of San Diego County. Many were either homeless, on probation, or a parolee; very few were actually tourists. Next, the CVPD hired the Center for Criminal Justice Research at California State University, San Bernardino, to develop and administer a survey to the local motel managers to gain a better understanding of the crime problems from the manager perspective. The results revealed that such management practices as renting primarily to local customers and long-term guests were correlated with higher CFS levels. Based on this analysis, project staff led by Karin Schmerler, Senior Public Safety Analyst and former COPS employee, and Captain Don Hunter, Sgt. David Eisenberg, and Sgt. Mark Jones focused their efforts on outreach to motel managers. They believed educating motel managers about their crime problems and what could be done about them would reduce CFS. The project team met with local motel managers and provided technical assistance about improving the property and increasing safety through simple measures such as dead bolts on exterior doors. These efforts, which began in 2001 and culminated in 2005, led to a 7 percent decrease in CFS.

Despite the disappointing results, the team turned to the Oakland (California) Police Department, the last U.S. agency to win the Goldstein Award in 2003 for an Oakland Airport Motel Project, and the Tukwila (Washington) Police Department for guidance. Both jurisdictions had adopted effective strategies for reducing motel crime and disorder at problem properties. In 1999, Chula Vista had implemented an ordinance that prohibited hourly room rentals and required motel guests to present photo IDs when they checked in, but those measures did not net a reduction in crime or the prevalent problems of disturbances, drugs, and assaults.

Partnerships proved to be a key component of the project. From the beginning, the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce had a vested interest in improving the safety of their city and its accommodations. They proved to be a vital partner as did the city’s Planning and Building Division (including code enforcement), Community Development, Finance Department, Fire Department, the City Attorney’s Office, and community/business groups.

In 2005, Chula Vista revisited the ordinance idea. This time, their focus was on public safety performance standards. To address this, the city council developed and passed an ordinance that required motels to obtain an annual permit-to-operate. Failure to have a valid permit could result in fines of up to $1,000 and/or 6 months in jail. Permits could be denied based on CFS levels, unsanitary rooms, or lack of basic crime prevention devices such as window locks or dead bolts. As a result of having performance standards based on the ordinance, motel CFS dropped 49 percent.

In this project, perseverance prevailed. When the initial responses were assessed, the project team returned to the analysis phase, and they turned to colleagues and available research. Schmerler authored a Problem-Oriented Guide titled Disorder at Budget Motels, and the information she garnered from an extensive literature review helped her team develop responses. In 2008, a follow-up survey was conducted with motel managers and revealed that their primary customers dropped from 70 percent local clientele to 30 percent, and the number of motels renting to long-term guests decreased from 46 percent to 30 percent, both populations had been sources of increased CFS. By providing motel operators with incentives to improve performance, managers successfully reduced their calls for service and thus increased safety on their properties. Another positive outcome was that at the onset of the project there were at least 378 motel rooms in Chula Vista that did not meet basic safety standards, today there are none. This is attributed to code inspections and the permit ordinance that requires rooms to have dead bolts, peepholes (or a nearby window), and door chains/security bars.

When asked what the most rewarding aspect of this project was, Schmerler said “knowing that performance standards can work.” To read more about the Chula Vista Motel Project or the five other 2009 Goldstein finalists, visit the POP Center website: or for more information about the Chula Vista project, including a copy of the ordinance, you can visit: For more information about reducing crime and disorder at motels, please refer to the POP Guide titled Disorder at Budget Motels or order a free copy by calling 1-800-421-6770.

Back to top | Printer Friendly Version