Security Can Set Your Community Apart
At the heart of every apartment community is the residents who call it home, and at the heart of every property owner should be the safety of their residents. Renters have a reasonable expectation of safety in their homes and apartment communities, and it’s up to property managers to make sure residents expectations are met and exceeded.
Protecting residents from potential theft, home intrusion, or personal harm from another person is a big responsibility, and the way issues are handled can have either huge positive or negative impacts for everyone involved. The best approach to optimizing security in your community is to be aware, transparent, and proactive.
Safety Starting Points
There are plenty of basic and affordable options for securing your community and individual apartments. Hector Rodriguez, chief of uniformed services at Critical Intervention Services, says keeping the community clean and in good repair is the simplest and easiest place for property managers to start.
“One thing you can control is the physical disorder of the property,” he said. “The broken windows theory says that if the environment is allowed to decay, meaning that you’re not taking care of the property physically, you’re creating an environment for crime to occur.”
Removing abandoned vehicles, trash, and any graffiti from the parking lot and amenity areas not only makes the community more visually appealing, but also shows that people are actively caring for the grounds and paying attention to what’s happening.
At the unit level, installing 180-degree door viewers and maintaining locks on doors and windows is the foundation of safety.
Encourage residents to meet and get to know each other so they feel more comfortable and confident in and around their homes. Residents who know their neighbors are more likely to notice when something is “off” — unfamiliar vehicles, people loitering, or unusual noises.
“You need active participation with your residents,” Officer Derwin Bradley of the Orlando Police Department said. “The more you engage your residents, and remind them it’s part of their responsibility to keep an eye on things, the better and safer your community will be.”
When safety is neglected and an incident occurs that results in a resident being injured or the victim of a crime, property management may be held responsible. Staying on top of resident maintenance requests and complaints will help keep residents happy and property managers free of liability. It’s important to document all maintenance requests and address issues as quickly as possible. Bradley recommends training your employees thoroughly on how to notice potential crimes. “Train your employees how to spot crime and report crime,” he said. “They should be looking out for people who don’t belong in the community, and making sure the people who do live there are following the rules.”
Simple features such as adequate and operational lighting in public areas can have a substantial positive impact.
“Lighting is big when it comes to liability litigation,” Rodriguez said. If a maintenance request is put in by a resident to address a burned-out light in the parking lot, and months later someone is hurt in the dark area, “there’s definitely some exposure there,” he explained.
When managers make the decision to bring in an outside team for security, it’s important to do due diligence and vet security companies carefully. Rodriguez suggests choosing an agency that conducts a threat assessment.
“A threat assessment is basically answering the who, what, and where questions about the property. Where’s the property located, what are the demographics, what types of physical disorders are there? That allows our agency to offer the kind of service we think will be effective,” he explained.
New Safety Trends
A common safety technique used in many apartment communities is to employ a security guard, or watchman, to supervise the community and look out for unusual activity. Whether a 24/7 security detail, or a single night-watchman who patrols the area, having a uniformed presence in your community will make residents feel safer and can help deter potential crime. A security guard is especially beneficial in communities without a gated entrance or visitor check-in registry.
Rodriguez explained different communities have different needs when it comes to patrol services. Critical Intervention Services offers armed and unarmed patrols, that vary in service and cost.
“For unarmed services they can range anywhere from $14 an hour to $17 an hour. For armed services you can get into $16 an hour to $23 an hour,” he said, adding that private services companies provide a good price relative to law enforcement. “They’ll cost you anywhere between, $38 and $55 an hour, depending on the department.”
A new trend in safety innovations is the use of call boxes, or emergency phones. The phones allow anyone walking by to make a call to a direct emergency line when they need assistance. The trend is already sweeping through college campuses, parks, and other public spaces throughout the country, so why not take advantage of its safety benefits in apartment communities as well?
New technologies have expanded the capabilities of security services even farther. CIS offers camera monitoring that can be done remotely and continuously. Actively monitoring cameras around the property can be a daunting and expensive service, so property managers need to evaluate the role they want the cameras to play in policing their community.
“We have clients who say we want to install cameras, and my first question to them is well, what’s the purpose of the cameras?” said Rodriguez. Cameras that aren’t continuously monitored do little to deter crime, and are only sometimes able to help catch culprits after a crime has occurred.
Stealth Monitoring is a video surveillance company based in Dallas, Texas, that monitors security cameras constantly and in real-time to help reduce and deter crime, property damage, and liability. The company customizes security plans based on each community’s needs and preferences, to determine how many cameras are needed on the property and the preferred protocol for handling safety issues when they arise.
“We typically watch cameras overnight,” said Tammy Miller, Stealth Monitoring’s Florida account executive. ”A lot of issues tend to happen when it’s dark, and when we see something suspicious we either call the emergency contact, depending on the customer’s protocol, or usually when it’s something more serious, the police. In doing this, we’ve helped a lot of our multifamily customers make their communities safer and we help police make arrests.”
Speaker deterrents are often used when someone is caught in an area they aren’t authorized to be. The speakers sound out a warning message to trespassers and tell them local authorities have been notified. “A lot of times we’ll sound the speaker if we see something suspicious and about 50 percent of the time the person who’s doing the suspicious activity just leaves,” Miller explained.
Hiring, training, and monitoring security patrols in a community can be time-consuming and costly, compared with remote monitoring services. “When we compare our services to an overnight guard, we are on average 25 to 50 percent less per month than those services would be,” Miller said. “It’s a more effective method with generally less costs in security.”
Miller says the biggest benefit of monitored video surveillance is that there are eyes on multiple locations throughout the property constantly. “No matter how great the security guard is, they can’t be at more than one place at a time, which is how unfortunately things can get past them. Seeing more of the property at once is a huge benefit.”
Local Law Enforcement
It’s important to have a good relationship with local law enforcement, and to keep up-to-date on crime statistics and incidents in your area. Providing this information to residents, and being transparent about previous incidents or crime, shows honesty and a proactive approach to safety.
Encourage residents to report any suspicious activity they witness to the police. “Always call us first,” Bradley said. “We’re out here 24/7. If something does happen and you don’t call — you’ll wish you had said something.”
Oftentimes companies that monitor security work closely with local police in a cooperative effort to reduce crime. Whenever suspicious activity or a crime is observed by Stealth Monitoring, Miller said, “more times than not, we’re calling the police.”
Local law enforcement can also provide safety tips and protection specific to your area through programs such as the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.
Assurance for All
Innovative and effective security measures will make your property more marketable to potential renters and increase the peace-of-mind of current residents. Making security a priority will not only make residents feel more comfortable, but it will actually keep them and your community safer.
Staying aware of local trends and crimes, sharing honest information with residents, and making the necessary security improvements are simple steps to take in the process of securing your community and residents.