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Take the crisis out of dealing with crime.

In property management, we usually equate an emergency with anything that disrupts the operation of our buildings-a fire, a flood, and so forth. As a result, the emergency procedures we develop often focus on plans of action for these unanticipated events.

However, there is one type of emergency that has such a low priority it seems all but ignored in procedures manuals-crime. While crime may be the number one issue in this country, its effect on tenants and owners has been largely ignored.

As managers, we cannot expect the police departments alone to prevent crime on our properties. As crime statistics continue to rise (Figure 1), the average police response time in Dallas now averages 21% minutes. Nor are most building security systems adequate to reduce the ever increasing crime rate.

Given these realities, can the property manager do anything to help reduce and control crime, especially when faced with budgetary restraints? The answer is a resounding yes."

Six years ago, Carole Young was attacked in broad daylight in the parking lot of a prestigious Dallas shopping center. When she asked local government officials what could be done, they replied, "Get involved.' From this less than encouraging advice came the first community crime watch network for office buildings and retail centers in Dallas.

A plan of attack The goals of this coalition were simple:

* Take a proactive approach to fighting crime.

* Create a communications system between buildings, which would allow one building to alert others of criminal activities.

* Meet monthly with representatives of the police department to share information with management staff, tenants, and building security about crimes in the area.

* Educate tenants about crime prevention and make them aware of current crime problems in the area.

Today, the entire Dallas metropolitan area has been divided into geographic zones, with five to 10 participants in each. The resulting network of property management and security personnel has had a significant impact on increasing awareness of crime within the city.

Organizing the program

Our first step in organizing our initial crime watch program was to define the neighborhood we wanted to cover. We settled on a core group of high-rise commercial properties within a few block radius. We felt that if a criminal was scared away from one property, a neighboring one was the next likely target.

Our next step was to invite property managers and security heads of these buildings to a meeting to discuss common security problems and, more importantly, possible solutions. We were amazed at the similarity of crimes we faced and the solutions that were presented.

The greatest hurdle in setting up a crime watch network and in retaining its vitality is keeping the group together. Our experience indicates that it is essential to enlist decision makers at each property management company in support of the program to ensure its optimum operation and success.

Even though the network is six years old, we still hold monthly one-hour meetings of building representatives to share problems and inform other participants of crimes in the area. Meetings also give managers the opportunity to participate in educational programs offered by the police or outside security firms. By educating ourselves, we are in a better position to educate our employees and tenants.

Safety training does not need to be elaborate. Offering maintenance personnel (particularly employees of janitorial services and landscape contractors) a cash bonus for spotting and reporting suspicious individuals may help prevent crime. Forming tenant groups to walk to parking areas after hours or reporting unauthorized solicitations requires little effort, but can be very effective.

One of our crime-watch participants, Jack Gardner of Aetna Realty Services, emphasizes that education is the key. If you can make your employees and your tenants aware of potential risks, most will act accordingly. In many cases, crimes may never happen if tenants and employees remain alert. Apathy of our tenants must be met with perseverance by the property manager and building staff. Until a tenant is involved in a crime-related incident he or she may not be able to understand the value of preventive security.

Police participation

Another vital factor in the success of our crime network program was the involvement of the local police department. A community relations officer, designated as a crime watch coordinator, attends each monthly meeting of our group.

The officer presents a report on criminal activity in the neighborhood. He or she provides information on known criminals operating in the area, including descriptions, mode of operations, and alleged recent activities. Our crime watch group then passes on this information to our tenants and maintenance and security personnel.

The police also conduct education programs for both our group and our tenants. Topics covered have included rape prevention, self defense, and child abuse. These brown-bag lunchtime sessions promote awareness and help tenants protect themselves by becoming informed about the realities of crime.

Many properties involved in the program have reciprocated this police assistance by providing a facility for police to stop and do reports or to relax on their breaks. The visible police presence on the properties also helps deter crime.

In the Operation HEAT (Help End Automobile Theft) program sponsored by the Dallas Police Department, officers place stickers on the vehicles of volunteer participants authorizing the police to stop these cars any time between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Because most stolen cars are transported during these hours when few regular motorists are on the road, these authorized stops help detect theft, especially in residential areas.

The police department also provides information on a business property identification program, guidelines for identifying suspicious activities, and instruction on what facts to give if you contact police or other tenants about an intruder. The department was also generous in providing a variety of safety awareness programs in order to make management and tenants more aware of the need for vigilance.

Developing communications

Initially, the Dallas networking system used front desk receptionists to alert others in the network about assaults, robberies, car thefts, rape, exposures, and other crimes at a property. Each property management office would then contact the building's security and maintenance personnel, and in some cases the tenants. Those notified would be told about the circumstances of the crime and gave a description of the perpetrator if available.

Today, the notification system has evolved into a computerized voice message system, activated by either the receptionist for each tenant, the property manager, or the building security staff. If property management personnel at one building places a message in the system, the computer instantly calls the other buildings and relays a recorded message. The caller places a message in the telephone's computerized message/holding and delivery system. The computer then alerts the other properties instantly, playing back the recorded message and allowing the listener to respond in a proactive manner.

The system may be operated from any touch-tone phone using an access code, and no special equipment is needed. The monthly charge for this voice mail system is $25.

Crime watch at work

With the crime watch network in place, our buildings are protected by dozens of alert tenants and management personnel on the watch. Not every call is accurate, but at least people feel that they are being informed.

Two examples will serve to demonstrate the value of Crime Watch. Dave Leopard, the director of protective services for the Dallas Market Center, related one incident that exemplified the success of the program. A security officer was contacted by a young woman, who had just been accosted in the building's parking lot. She was able to escape unhurt, and she had a good description of her attacker and the vehicle he was driving.

The information on the vehicle was dispatched across the security network system, and a neighboring property advised the security office of the first property that this vehicle was in its parking lot. The first property's security officer took the victim to verify that the vehicle was indeed the one involved. When the vehicle was identified, the officer called the police, who were able to arrest the assailant.

Our initial concern that providing information on crime would have a negative impact on tenants has proved completely wrong. Tenants feel more capable of defending themselves when they are informed, and less pressure is placed on management personnel to control crime.

Pam Koons, property manager for Transwestern Property Company, is the crime watch coordinator for the Park Central area in North Dallas, and shared an instance were vendors and staff played a valuable role in preventing a crime.

On his way back from picking up his payroll, Barry Haesley of Vanguard Security, who is chief of security for Transwestern's four-building office complex, observed a suspicious person bent over near the floorboard in a parked car. As he parked his car, Haesley noticed broken glass on the ground beside the driver's door. Investigating further, Haesley saw another person sitting in a second car, idling about 500 feet away.

As Haesley radioed for backup, the thief jumped from the second floor of the garage and fled. The man in the car sped away, with Haesley in pursuit. Haesley was able to trap the man behind a row of parked cars.

At the same time, our entire staff was alerted by radio communication. Transwestern's maintenance personnel rushed to help as the police arrived. The property's HVAC vendor spotted the second thief running down the street behind the buildings. The vendor stopped a passing car, asked for assistance, and pursued the thief to a nearby gas station. The police were notified, and after another, brief chase, the thief was apprehended.

Both suspects, who were on probation, were charged with burglary of a motor vehicle.

The long-term benefits

Networking against crime does work. Let's not wait around until we are the victims. Uniting your management and maintenance staffs and your tenants against crime on your properties allows you to take the offensive, not the defensive, against crime.
Guidelines for a Good
Crime Watch Message
 * Detailed physical description
 of suspect
 * Description of suspicions or
 confirmed illegal activity
 * Description of vehicle, with license
 plate number, if possible
 * Time of last sighting
 Location of last sighting
 * Direction last seen heading
 * Have police been notified?
 * Date of incident
 * Any additional information

What is Suspicious?

Basically, anything that seems even slightly "out of place" or that occurs at an unusual time of day could be a criminal activity. Some of the most obvious events to watch for and report are:

* A stranger entering your neighbor's house when it is unoccupied.

* A scream from anywhere.

* Offers of merchandise at ridiculously low prices.

* Anyone removing accessories, license plates, or gasoline from a car.

* Anyone peering into parked cars.

* A person entering or leaving a business after hours.

* The sound of breaking glass or of an explosion.

* Anyone loitering in a neighborhood who does not live there.

* Someone going door to door, especially if they seem to be checking doors to see if they are locked.

* Someone waiting in front of a building when the owner is absent or the business closed.

* Any sign of forced entrance.

* Someone carrying property not wrapped by the store, especially at unusual hours.

* A person running, especially carrying something of value.

* A person exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms.

* A larger increase in human traffic to and from a certain building, especially at odd hours.

* Vehicles being loaded with valuables, even if they appear to be repair vans.

* Parked, occupied cars, especially at an unusual hour

* A "delivery" person with an alleged wrong address.

* Business transactions conducted from a vehicle.
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:community crime watch network
Author:Ventura, Frank
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:May 1, 1990
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