Improving safety on commercial, residential and retail property is a top priority of Property Managers. However, many struggle with how to implement the strategies necessary to accomplish this goal. Over the past decade I’ve had the privilege to provide security services for many commercial, residential and retail properties. Fortunately, I have gained a lot of experience, which I have found to be useful in helping property managers to increase safety and reduce liability. Especially in hospitals, office buildings, shopping centers, and apartment communities.
Most properties with security concerns have 2 things in common; they have parking lots, and they have contracted security companies to protect them. Hence, in order to effectively improve safety on these properties, not only must the properties themselves be improved, but the security provider protecting them must also be improved. In this article, I’m going to speak about 4 of the most critical security measures in Property Management that often are not addressed adequately or not addressed at all. However, before discussing the measures, I want to add that it is critical for Property Managers to begin the process by:
- Conducting regular security assessments on their properties. This is recommended at least once a year, and sometimes more often depending on recent crime on and near your property and recent crime trends on the type of property that you manage.
- Drafting a clear and concise Scope of Work (SOW) to potential security companies that encompass the recommendations from this article when issuing Request for Proposals (RFP’s) or Invitations for Bid (IFB’s).
- Thoroughly vetting at least 3 security companies before settling on one and ensuring the selected company has the capacity and leadership to carry out the work as you have written.
- Requiring the selected security company to write Post Orders that comply with your SOW and insist that the company trains all of its security officers to be in full compliance at all times.
Once the above measures have been undertaken, the following 4 Highly Effective security measures will improve safety and decrease liability on the properties that you manage.
1.Traffic control in the parking lot – Patrons, guests, and tenants who frequent commercial, residential and retail property are 100 times more likely to be struck by a vehicle than they are to be victimized by crime in parking lots. Despite these statistics parking lot signage and traffic control measures often fall to the bottom of the list of things to be addressed by Property Managers. Likewise, many security companies also fail to make reporting issues with traffic control a part of their overall security strategy. The Property Manager who truly wants to improve safety and reduce liability on their property must prioritize traffic control issues.
The first step in accomplishing this is to mandate in the Scope of Work (SOW) that your security provider is responsible for reporting all traffic control hazards and that the responsibility to do so is incorporated into their post orders. Common hazards that should be reported include: overgrown trees and shrubs which obstruct the view of oncoming traffic; Potholes, as vehicles may encounter a pedestrian while swerving to avoid them; damaged sidewalks which force pedestrians into lanes of traffic; and damaged or faded traffic control signs, e.g., crosswalks, fire lanes, yield signs, stop signs, parking lines, directional signs, etc.
The second step is to ensure that you, the Property Manager, are willing to correct the reported deficiencies within a reasonable amount of time – 72 hours is usually adequate. Traffic control recommendations that significantly improve safety, and reduce liability include speed bumps, pedestrian crossing signs, re-painting or re-striping and traffic control signs, e.g., crosswalks, stop, yield, speed, fire lane and etc. These items can be budgeted annually and purchased online fairly easily at sites like U-Line. As a best practice, annual repainting is highly recommended around the same time each year, as parking lot paint is only good for about a year. Reflective marking tape is a more durable alternative to annual repainting*. With pricing starting as low as $44.00 per 150 feet of tape, it is possible to save tons of money as reflective parking tape can be good for up to three years.
*The durability of all parking lot striping is determined by the volume of traffic on the lot.
2. Lighting – My security company was once contracted by a Property Manager who refused to repair lights on their Property despite that our officers reported the problem to them over SEVEN HUNDRED times in one year. Needless to say, although my security officers understood their accountability, the Property Manager did not. Therefore, due to the lack of action to address and correct the multiple safety and liability concerns reported by our team, I made the decision to sever ties with the aforementioned Property Manager.
- Defective or inadequate lighting is another danger regularly seen on some properties. Lighting standards are regulated by both OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Association) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute); however, Property Managers are responsible for maintaining their own check and balance systems. Without a proactive system to ensure that lighting remains functional many properties find themselves, literally, in the dark. Some property’s lights go unfixed for months, even years, without being addressed.
- Good lighting is key to decreasing your liability on commercial and residential property, therefore it is important that Property Managers act quickly to repair lights that have been reported as non-functional. The key is to have proactive quality control procedures that involve security officers, maintenance staff, employees, and tenants. The security officers and maintenance staff should be responsible for inspecting lighting issues daily and ensuring that they are reported in writing by the end of each shift. In addition, the tenants and employees should be encouraged to report lighting issues and have an easily accessible system in place to do so.
- To further reduce liability and increase safety, Property Managers should ensure that all lighting issues are repaired within 24 hours of being notified, or within a reasonable amount of time to order the parts necessary to remedy the problem…normally no longer than 72 hours. Performing proactive lighting inspections will not only protect your tenants, employees and guests, it will also protect the Property Management company and the Owners against Premise Security Liability lawsuits in the unfortunate case in which someone becomes the victim of a crime on their property.
- To improve lighting, I have found LED lighting to be highly effective for both buildings and parking lots. It’s like night and day (pun intended) compared to traditional lighting. Hubbell Lighting Company, a Virginia-based company, has great before and after pictures and video that show the improvements gained through using LED lighting. Be sure to visit their site to see how LED lighting might work to improve safety on your property and at the same time save you thousands of dollars in operating and maintenance cost.
3. Cameras and CCTV – The power of CCTV is often misunderstood and underutilized. CCTV is a worthy ally to increase safety on any property. Analog cameras are old news but new HD cameras provide an additional layer of security and aids law enforcement and security officers with crystal clear images that bolster their efforts to protect others. Property Managers, citizens, security and Police Officers benefit in 2 ways:
- By capturing incidents, crimes, suspect, and vehicle information.
- By acting as a deterrent against crime. The last thing that perpetrators want is to be caught, and the presence of CCTV cameras highly increases the chance that they will. If cameras are present, most perpetrators find an easier target to reduce the chance of being caught.
While CCTV systems can be a big hit to your budget, not having them can be an even bigger hit according to Free Legal Advice’s website. Legal Advice confirms what most security experts already know. Property Managers have a “Duty to Provide” adequate security provisions for the properties they manage. Legal Advice writes, “If you have been attacked or made a victim of a crime in the parking lot of a business or housing complex, you may be able to pursue a legal claim against the owners/operators of the lot for negligent security.” Further, “Commercial Property owners do not have to guarantee the safety of everyone who enters the Property; however, they must respond appropriately to foreseeable risks.” Therefore “Foreseeable Risk” is the standard that Property Managers are judged by. Foreseeable Risk may involve areas of high crime, or patterns of crime occurring on or near the property of which the Property Manager was or should have been aware. CCTV is not the complete answer, but it can be a line of defense for Property Managers and Owners who find themselves in litigation.
4. Cleanliness of the property – In the security and law enforcement profession there is a theory called “The Broken Window Theory.” The theory has its roots in CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design). In a nutshell, the Broken Window theory was developed around inner city urban environments but can be utilized to improve the security in any environment. The theory uses broken windows as a metaphor for disorder in communities. Its goal is to maintain and monitor environments to prevent petty crime such as vandalism, public drinking, loitering, littering, etc., to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crime. Most Property Managers are consistent in keeping their properties clean. However, if this detail has been ignored on your properties, it is imperative to the safety of the people who frequent them that your team makes keeping them clean and beautified a priority. Additionally, your security officers should be empowered by you to bar violators for loitering, littering, disturbing the peace and vending without a license on your property.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and congratulations on taking the first steps to address some of the security concerns that you may struggle with while managing your commercial, residential and retail properties. As you can see, there are ways to implement the strategies necessary to improve safety. These tried and true methods are the result of more than a decade of experience of applying it to successfully protect properties just like those that you manage. It is our hope my hope that this information will help you create safer environments for the patrons, guests, and tenants who frequent your properties.
Feel free to contact me if you manage property in the Washington, D.C area and think that a free Risk Assessment could benefit you and your tenants.
This article was written by Melvin Key, SR (CPP). Melvin is a retired DC Police Captain and the CEO and owner of MVP Protective Services, LLC which has been providing security services to Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia for over 12 years. Board certified in Security Management – ASIS