“Gun. Gun. GUN!!”
My fellow Paradise Valley police officers hear me shout those words as I draw my sidearm. They pivot and catch the suspect with their flashlights. There’s a gun clearly visible in his waistband.
The growing crowd – most drunk, high or both – start screaming and surrounding my team. We know from experience that at least a few of them have concealed weapons. I glance up and spot hundreds more people in the house on a hill far above us. They have the high ground. We are sitting ducks.
Standing in the driveway of this large home, my officers and I were completely outnumbered, likely outgunned and incredibly vulnerable.
You would think we had walked into some type of riot. Here’s the reality – we were called to the scene of a house party — one that got completely out of control.
Lobbyists and tech executives with Airbnb and VRBO can try to dismiss these dangerous situations, but this is the harsh reality about what happens – time and again – in our neighborhoods at some short-term rental properties.
There are many people, both in government and the short-term rental industry, who claim we have the tools we need to deal with “problem properties.” That’s just not true. That night in particular, my only tool was one standard-issue, service weapon. And that was very close to not being enough.
The tools at our disposal are entirely reactive, which means we can only deal with something after it’s already out of control. There are no tools – no regulations or laws – that enable us to prevent problems at short-term rentals before they start.
Our small town’s entire police force is needed at these scenes – and not just for a few minutes. It has taken us more than six hours to clear a situation like this. That’s six hours where other calls go unanswered – or have a severely delayed response. Our department estimated that, year-to-date, we have been to more than 70 incidents at short-term rentals where the town code was violated. The average time at each (some mundane, some not) call is a staggering 394 minutes.
I’m an experienced officer and a seasoned professional, but I’ll be honest – it is incredibly unnerving walking into these short-term rental parties. I can handle people on alcohol and I can handle people on drugs, but when you combine it with the anti-law enforcement culture going on – and especially when people have weapons – it doesn’t matter where I position myself, or where I position the other officers. We’re at a frightening disadvantage. That night, if somebody had pointed a gun or taken a shot at us, I’m confident there would have been bloodshed at that house.
We’re using every tool available to be proactive in policing short-term rentals. We’re actively monitoring short-term rentals each and every day to get a handle on events before they get out of control.
What’s needed, in my opinion, is a focus on prevention and sensible regulation. We need to take the handcuffs off local governments and give them the ability to better protect the property rights of local citizens. It’s time for our elected state officials to take meaningful action. The safety of residents, homeowners and police across our state is at stake.
My life – and the lives of my officers – should matter more than the desire of short-term rental apps to make money.
Enough is enough.
Kelly Ingram is a sergeant with the Town of Paradise Valley Police Department.