Reducing Crime

Reducing Crime

Minimizing vandalism on your commercial property

With police departments often being under budgeted and over worked, resulting in reduced patrols and delayed response, many business owners have come to expect that valuable assets stored outdoors are going to be subject to theft and vandalism, and these costs just need to be absorbed.

However, businesses do not need to accept anticipated loss just because their operation has assets in outdoor locations. Auto dealers, construction sites, marinas and remote facilities are just some examples of locations that can use advanced surveillance technology to cost-effectively reduce or eliminate these losses.

Security starts at the perimeter of the property, not at the perimeter of the building, though many traditional security designs have been limited to securing only interior assets, not exterior ones. Let’s look at the highest priority physical security risks for commercial properties, and the technologies designed to mitigate these challenges and increase crime prevention.

Theft and Vandalism: Top Security Risks

Many businesses are impacted by property crimes. In fact, four out of 10 small businesses will probably file a property or general liability claim in the next 10 years, according to a 2015 analysis by The Hartford, an insurance firm.

One of the chief property crimes commercial locations are at risk of is theft. Twenty percent of all small business insurance claims are for theft and burglary, according to The Hartford study. The effects of just one burglary can be particularly harmful for businesses that store valuable assets outdoors, causing a loss of operations, profitability, or future opportunity if customer needs are not met because the business is unable to sell desired products.

For instance, a Public Storage lot in Frederick, Md., had 250 units broken into during one weekend at the end of October 2017. Upset customers and temporary closure of the facility due to the police investigation were just some of the costly consequences this Public Storage facility faced. By December 2017, no suspects had been identified and the value of the stolen property was estimated between $65,000 to $75,000.

Another high priority physical security concern for commercial structures is vandalism, or the intentional damage to a building, property or equipment. In its Preventing Vandalism guide, the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center defines vandalism as “graffiti, trash dumping, light smashing, removing/ bending signage or ornamentation, breaking windows, or other defacing of property.” While assets may not necessarily be stolen, they are certainly impaired, which negatively impacts the feel and look of the property.

Cost of Crime Substantial

When a commercial property is physically compromised, the financial and business impact is significant. Take graffiti vandalism, for instance. To remove graffiti, facility managers can use chemical removers to dissolve the paint or they can repaint the area entirely. In some cases, it is better to replace the sign or structure altogether. An estimated $12 billion is spent cleaning up graffiti annually in the United States, according to Graffiti, a publication by Community Oriented Policing Services. On a smaller level, the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates this breaks down to about $3,370 per incident.

When a property is defaced, not only are there repair costs, but there are also businesses losses as well. A retail store whose windows are broken into may appear less safe so fewer customers come in to purchase merchandise; this can result in a decline in sales. Likewise, a public park whose signs, benches and tables have been tagged with graffiti may attract fewer families.

Wild West Cars and Trucks, a used car dealership in Seattle, is a prime example of a business that was substantially affected by vandalism. On Dec. 31, 2017, a vandal sprayed a highly corrosive substance onto the dealership’s cars. Twenty-seven cars, or a quarter of the dealership’s inventory, were affected. It was estimated that there was $150,000 in damages.

For storage facilities, a booming business sector, the average cost per cargo theft event is $196,109, according to CargoNet, an information services firm.

Recovering stolen goods rarely happens, and when it does the goods are often damaged or unable to be sold as new. Removing graffiti or repairing structures from other types of vandalism requires time, labor and money—which take away from a company’s bottom line.

Guards Can Be Effective, But Expensive

Security guards are one approach to perimeter protection, but they may not be cost effective or practical in all locations. The advantage of having a security officer onsite is that their visible presence serves as a deterrent to trespassers, thieves and vandals. On the other hand, employing guards is an added expense, ranging from $10,000 to $13,000 per month, which not all commercial businesses can afford.

In addition, sites in remote locations, cold weather climates, or those which are very large and distributed may be impractical for effective on-site guarding. If the guard is forced to stay indoors, or required to regularly patrol a large site, they may not be able to react effectively to property threats.

Secure the Perimeter to Reduce Loss

The key to securing commercial properties is to implement a system that allows for proactive prevention, instead of reactive cleanup and investigation.

When evaluating the security needs of a commercial property, the focus is often on interior areas such as ingress and egress points as well as visitor management areas. However, facility managers and their systems integrators should start by analyzing the property itself, particularly the perimeter. With a properly designed and installed system, intruders can be detected and engaged before they have damaged or stolen property.

Advancements in surveillance camera technologies like image sensors and embedded processors, coupled with video analytics and deep learning has created a new generation of effective solutions for perimeter protection. Reductions in both size and cost of these components have enabled the creation of smart cameras that can combine multiple technologies into sleek, cost-effective units, designed for perimeter protection and protection of outdoor assets.

Thermal + Analytics, Cornerstone of Solution

Video analytics which can detect the presence of people or vehicles (thieves and vandals need to either walk or drive onto a property before they can cause damage) work best with high-contrast images. Thermal cameras naturally produce sharp, high-contrast images that enable higher-performing analytics by making objects like people and vehicles stand out clearly and eliminate dependence on exterior lighting to get good contrast.

This results in reduced false alarm rates, as the analytics do not struggle to “see” the objects of interest, making the system a reliable intruder detector. By using thermal technology with classification analytics, we can form the basis of a strong intrusion detection system, but there are additional factors to consider.

Optical Camera + Lighting, Provides Enhanced Detail

While thermal cameras and analytics can tell you that an intruder has entered your property, they will not provide details like facial features or colors of clothing. For this task, we use optical cameras with supplemental lighting to get good images day or night.

When the thermal camera/analytics combo detects an intruder, the optical camera can be called into play to capture additional visual details of the event. This allows a guard or security operator to get maximum information about the intruder, with the greatest potential to spot them even in challenging conditions.

Because optical cameras rely on capture light reflected from objects, instead of radiated heat as a thermal camera does, sufficient lighting must to be available at the scene. LEDs are a modern, efficient form of illumination for surveillance cameras. IR LEDs provide illumination that is discreet but will only allow the optical camera to produce black and white images. Visiblelight LEDs provide illumination that is visible and obvious to the intruder (which can act as a deterrent) and will enable the optical camera to capture color details. Ideally, an exterior surveillance strategy would employ both forms of illumination for maximum flexibility and effectiveness.

Virtual Guarding, Modern Approach to Prevention

Being able to reliably detect intruders is one half of the solution, putting information about those events in front of security personnel is the second half of a complete approach. With the proliferation of mobile devices and internet connectivity at practically every business, onsite-guards are not required to provide instant response and theft prevention.

A “virtual guard” can be an employee of the compact, such as a facilities manager, or a monitoring service that specializes in video verification and response. In most cases, the costs of employing a virtual guard through a monitoring company is less than one-tenth the cost of an on-site guard, yet it has similar, or better, overall effectiveness.

The virtual guard can react immediately upon notification of an event, which includes a short video clip delivered with the notification as evidence of how and where the intrusion occurred, and live video for an up-tothe- second assessment of what is currently happening.

Audio talk-down is the most common first response, and many facilities report that a customized message, directed specifically to the intruder, their location on the property, and their actions provides strong encouragement for them to vacate the premises immediately. By using live audio instead of just pre-recorded sounds or messages, the intruder knows they are being observed live and that someone is aware of their presence.

Video Verification— Priority Police Response

When the audio talk-down is not fully effective, the virtual or remote guard will often phone the local police department to report the incident and request an on-site response. Because the guard has both video of the event, and live video as well, they can confirm to the police with absolute certainty that the alarm is valid and immediate onsite response will likely result in an arrest. In many cases, police departments prioritize response to these calls, as they are assured it is not just a false alarm or employee going back for a forgotten item that accidentally set off the alarm.

Property Loss No Longer Tolerated

Smart business owners have learned that there are effective, affordable solutions to securing their outdoor assets, and they are working with security integrators who can bring them these solutions daily.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Security Today.

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