The safety and well-being of a community is integral to its growth and success, and no one knows that better than our Executive Director, Jerry Lowry, whose work in the public and private sector includes many years in law enforcement and security.
Prior to joining the Hobby Area District’s staff, Jerry worked for 15 years in the Greenspoint District, where he was first the director of public safety and later became president. The transition to serving the Greenspoint community came naturally for Jerry, who started his career as a police officer and sergeant with the Houston Police Department (HPD) before moving into the field of corporate security.
That experience goes a long way toward making the Hobby Area District a safer and healthier place for residents and small business owners,; and in honor of National Safety Month, we interviewed Jerry to find out how the Hobby Area District is helping the community.
How does your background help you as the executive director of Hobby District?
In my police days, I served as a patrol officer, and the East End across the freeway from the Hobby District was my beat. I did patrol activities and responded to calls for service on Broadway and Airport, and on occasion Telephone Road if manpower was low. Due to this, I had some familiarity with the Hobby Area going back to the 1980s.
When I worked in the private security industry for a company in the energy sector, I was part of a team that would go into areas in different countries and evaluate safety, security and health before the company could commit to sending employees on rotation or on a permanent basis. Part of that is what I do now, but in a local rather than global sense—when I made the switch from corporate security to management districts in 2000, it was kind of the same thing but on a much smaller scale. There was a professional draw because my education was in criminal justice, and with my experience as a police officer and in corporate planning, it meant I could take everything I had learned and effectively put it into practice.
Greenspoint had a pretty serious gun and crime reputation then. However, it was important for me to tackle these issues. After many years of working abroad, I wanted to see if I could make a difference in a local community, while also affording me time with my family and my church. It was 18 years ago that I made that decision, and it’s been a good ride.
What are some of the initiatives Hobby Area District has implemented to increase safety?
We partner with the Houston Police Department to start the Positive Interaction Program (PIP), which encourages apartment managers to network and share best safety practices, which include implementing background checks on residents, enforcing rules, combating and preventing crimes, and becoming Blue Star Certified.
The District went from zero to two Blue Star properties within a year, which is great; it’s a big challenge to get there! Many apartments are applying Blue Star elements to their communities that I think are helping.
We also developed a relationship with HPD so we’re able to provide information to them when we see certain trends developing. We can pick up on some things earlier because we’re focused on a much smaller area.
We have a healthy contract with S.E.A.L. Security, who provide patrol services in the District. For around 170 hours a week, their marked patrol vehicles monitor and work the area. They also have K9s they walk in parks and public spaces to get their numbers out if people need help. We tell people to call 911 first and S.E.A.L. second, but S.E.A.L. might get there first because they’re more concentrated.
We’ve also implemented surge efforts, which are high S.E.A.L. concentrations in areas showing signs of vice crimes like prostitution and loitering. We’ve seen some significant crime reduction when arrests are made, which takes criminals off the street.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about safety in the District?
A significant portion of crime in the District happens within private apartments. Statistically, aggravated assaults are domestic or acquaintance related, but it can be misleading to the general public and potential business owners if they don’t know this. We try to explain the facts behind the data, but those are the kinds of things we battle—there is a different perception of crime than the reality of crime.
What do you think is the most important safety issue in the District right now?
Our most significant challenges are citywide challenges, for example, dealing with homelessness and panhandling. That’s a major problem for us because it leads to trash under our overpasses that don’t leave a good impression for people arriving in our city.
The good news is that we’re working with Houston First, Greater Houston Partnership and a group of management districts on a program called Meaningful Change, which kicked off right before Harvey. We had a meeting a few weeks ago and one with Mayor Turner last Thursday to re-launch that program. This effort attempts to tackle the homelessness issue and the overlap it might have with panhandlers through education, mass marketing, and social media efforts. It includes an app intended to help fund and supplement programs that help the homeless while also preventing panhandling fraud.