Important steps in making communities safer.
By Julie Warren
It’s a familiar story: A home in a community association is vandalized or burglarized, and the neighbors are outraged and fearful. Other residents worry that their home is next. To prevent a recurrence, the association board votes to install stronger locks, new security cameras, extra outdoor safety lighting, or other barriers throughout the community. Perhaps the board goes so far as to hire security personnel.
While this may be a kneejerk—albeit, natural—reaction to a break in, property damage, or other criminal act within a community, it is, after all, like closing the barn door after the horse is out. Inevitably, once the new equipment is installed or the guard is hired, residents tend to relax and go about their business. And then there’s another incident.
For managers and boards, what’s a better strategy for maintaining residents’ safety and securing personal property in community associations?
According to Christopher Lanni, CMCA, AMS, CPP (certified protection professional), the first step in making a community safer is to gather data about the association you manage, nearby or similar communities, and the region or municipality in general. Founder and president of Secure Residential Services, a Boston-area consulting company that specializes in safety and security in multifamily communities, Lanni encourages managers to research and collect a lot of information for their boards to review and consider before taking any expensive steps.
“Do your homework,” Lanni says. “The change you’re about to make is significant.” For instance, learn what the crime statistics are in the area, and what other communities in your area are doing to reduce or prevent crime. What information or advice can local police departments offer? Talk to vendors, investigate products, and consider what a reasonable next step is. “Every property has its own needs and style, and the solution should be tailored to the individual community,” adds Lanni.
Develop a Plan
Make sure you have a plan. For instance, if your community chooses to hire a security guard, do you want that person to wear a uniform to create a sense of authority? Or is your association’s style a softer, more relaxed presentation? When will the security guard be on duty? Only late at night? If you need a guard 24/7, then the community obviously needs more than one person. Is it more cost-effective to hire a security company to provide guards or for the association to hire guards directly?
Recognize that securing a property is a process, and consider and evaluate what the community is doing already. Is the current process making a difference? If not, what adjustments should be made? Recognize that securing a property is a process, and consider and evaluate what the community is doing already. Is the current process making a difference? If not, what adjustments should be made? And what are the association’s goals? Were video cameras installed to create a historical record for post-incident investigation only or for real-time monitoring? Expectations should be different if someone is monitoring a system live and reacting real-time, says Lanni.
Lanni, who is the immediate past president of the Association of Residential Security Directors, also recommends that the community establish a reporting system. If you have a video camera, what is or will be your policy for archiving recordings? For how long? If you’re making plans to install a new key-card system, how will that be monitored? Will the fob or card record who the holder is? And who alerts the police if there’s a breach? Is there a warning if a secure door is propped open for more than a few minutes?
“You want to know who’s going in and out,” says Dave Pearson, president of 215 Secure, a CAI business partner in suburban Philadelphia. Pearson, whose company primarily installs electronic security systems, believes that securing a community involves assembling layers. For instance, he says, “You may want to add a layer that lets you know which fob went in and out. You also may want a video camera at perimeter locations to verify that the registered individual has the fob.”
Lanni also recommends starting with simple adjustments rather than an immediate comprehensive overhaul of the community’s security plan. He suggests adding one inexpensive item or step to the current process, and then ask yourself, “Is what we’ve already done making a difference?”
Policies and Procedures
Lanni, who also is corporate residential risk advisor for Barkan Management and director of security and resident services for the Harbor Towers in Boston, recommends that managers work with their boards to establish a policy. “People get in the most trouble when they don’t have a policy,” says Lanni, who adds that once a policy is in place, managers need to “stick to it.”
Whatever security procedures you implement, Lanni warns that even a minor change to a community’s current security plan is significant, and sometimes even the smallest adjustment can have a negative outcome. That’s why it’s essential to be vigilant and frequently assess the security program. “Sometimes getting you to a better place is enough,” he says.
Pearson says that when it’s time to make decisions about securing a community, “You want to get a group of folks in the room to talk about what the issues are and what they’re trying to achieve.” He adds that “those in the room” should include the manager, a board member or the owner of the building, the guard company, and your electronic security folks.
“That’s when I’ve seen the best results take place,” he says.
Julie Warren is editor of Community Manager.
PROBLEM SOLVERS: CAI has numerous resources for managers and boards looking to improve security in their communities, including Best Practices: Community Security. One of the Best Practices series produced by the Foundation for Community Association Research, this book is available at cost at www.caionline.org/shop (member price $6.95) or as a free download at www.cairf.org/research/bpsecurity.pdf. Community Security details various options available to community associations, including security services, access control systems, alarm systems, gates, and surveillance systems. In addition, the book provides a list of key security terms, a checklist of what residents can do to secure their community, what to ask prospective security vendors, and a numerous resources for more information on security.
Additional information about security, including webinars and archived Common Ground articles, is available to CAI members at www.caionline.org.