Security and safety are necessary considerations for every townhome and condominium dweller. When it comes to security, high-rise buildings and townhome communities are just as vulnerable as other residential homes. Fire safety and life safety issues present yet another area for concern.
Surveying the Risk
Property managers should first enlist the services of a professional security company to provide a risk assessment of the property. Such an assessment would include an analysis of the property, including the neighborhood, crime statistics, points of entry, lighting conditions, etc. The findings of the risk assessment will be the basis for what security systems and personnel should be utilized to create the best security/safety plan for the property.
Identifying key areas of potential safety hazards and vulnerability exposure, and incorporating the safeguards into a safety/security plan will be the fundamental basis for the overall plan. Having a well-documented safety and security plan in place will also help protect against receiving adverse verdicts in a court of law, should any security or safety liability lawsuits arise.
After determining the security needs of the property, video surveillance and/or security guards are often recommended. Recent advances in security technology including video surveillance provide an enhanced level of protection for reasonable cost. Video surveillance is able to handle a wide range of security situations that were once the sole responsibility of a security officer. If utilized properly, video cameras can provide more than an “illusion of safety” and in many circumstances can prevent, detect and control criminal activity.
While video surveillance has made security less expensive and more available, the main issue with video technology is that while it can detect when and where a problem has occurred, in most cases, the response of the police or a security officer is needed. Video surveillance systems can include multi-camera screens where an operator can monitor hundreds of cameras at once. This is a significant advantage considering security guards cannot be present at all times in all locations of the property. However, it is only effective if a security officer is available to respond quickly and efficiently to any situations observed on the video screen.
Not Only Video Surveillance
Cameras alone are incapable of inspecting packages, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, doors, windows, lights, etc. They cannot secure a door a tenant has left open, nor are they effective in assisting residents and employees during a crisis, answering questions of residents or guests, quelling panic when unexpected issues arise or for verifying identification. Cameras can be vital to the preservation of evidence for a crime or accident, but they do nothing to proactively respond to the situation in “real time.” Security officers, on the other hand, can react in “real time” to a criminal activity and in emergency situations, such as fires and gas leaks, to minimize the risk of property damage, injury or death.
While the job duties and responsibilities of a security officer are not the same as those of a police officer, many security officers’ tasks parallel those of police officers, providing more advantages for a property and a better deterrent to crime. Such duties include, stopping entry by unauthorized individuals, watching for impending danger, responding to problems and reporting crimes. Unlike police officers, security officers are not permitted to make arrests unless he/she witnesses a person committing a crime as a “citizen’s arrest.” If a security officer observes someone doing a prohibited activity on private property, such as loitering, smoking or riding a bicycle, he can ask that person to leave. If the person does not leave, the security officer can use reasonable force to remove the person from the premises. A security officer cannot use excessive force and they cannot arrest or detain a person based on mere suspicion that the person committed an offense, and it is normally suggested that the police be called if the directions of the security officer are not followed.
The conduct of a security officer in performing his or her duties in responding to criminal activity or emergency conditions is integral to the effectiveness of any security/safety plan. This is particularly true in the property management industry. There are three things to be considered when hiring security officers: what needs to be protected; the level of protection and the budget for security and—is the security officer to be hired “in-house” or “outsourced” to a contract agency.
There are some advantages to hiring a security guard agency rather than providing the security with an “in-house” staff. For example, the company is required to be licensed, bonded and insured; the security officers are licensed; a rigorous background screening has taken place; a job interview has been completed to best match the security officer to the site; the security officer has been sufficiently trained as well as completed written tests to examine intelligence, honesty and personality; a substitute guard is available if the guard is ill, on vacation, etc.; payroll and benefits are administered by the agency, and the overall management of the security force is performed by the contract agency. In addition, the security officer that is employed by a contract agency can be more easily terminated and replaced than an “in-house” employee.
Ideally, property managers should implement a safety and security plan best suited for their own particular community. It could be one that incorporates professional security officers provided through a contracted agency, in conjunction with a comprehensive video surveillance system. The video surveillance system helps to alert officers of a situation so they can immediately respond to and provide a report of the threatened events. A security package that combines security officers and video technology will do more than just secure a premises; it will put the concerns of the resident and employee population at ease. A good and well implemented security plan is a “win-win” situation for all involved.
Peter V. Christiansen, Esq., a retired NYPD detective, is president and founder of Protection Plus Security Corp. in New York City.