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To Catch a Thief – How Much Security Should Your Community Be Providing

As with most things in life, security is a term that is subject to many different interpretations and elicits many different emotions. In a community association setting, security is of particular concern, given that the selling points for many communities include the feelings of security and safety they are able to provide to their residents.

Of course, the questions most board members and managers ask is, “How much security is enough?” and “How much security is real and how much is illusion?” Does your association have an electronic gate, a manned guard gate, roving patrols, or strategically located video cameras in your community?

What about a neighborhood watch? Are your common areas and recreational facilities such as the pool, clubhouse, and tennis courts properly locked and monitored? Just how much security does your particular association need to provide? The answers to these questions really depend on the type of community you have, your location, the requirements in your governing documents, and any history of crime you may have experienced in your association. Some governing documents do require the board to provide specific security measures such as roving patrols. Others are silent on the issue, but the board’s duty to protect the health and safety of the community residents is implicit.Of course no matter what level of security your documents require or you have traditionally provided, any type of criminal incident in your community necessitates an examination of current security and a discussion on what else needs to be done to prevent another incident from occurring.

A violent crime against a person in the association parking lot, for example, might require upgrades in lighting the premises, trimming or removing shrubbery where people can hide, and the institution of roving patrols during certain hours. An incident of vandalism might require strategically-placed video cameras to capture any future incidents on film. Of course, it goes without saying that the board and management should know how to operate and review those cameras to ensure that the data is captured to avoid it being automatically erased, as has occurred in some associations in some instances. Having a visitor’s log at a front gate, so that every vehicle is identified and the list can later be given to the police if necessary, has also proven to be a useful security measure for many communities.

Security is a two-way street and staying safe should be a partnership between the board and the association members, with an understanding that the community’s
security should be regularly examined…in order to see what new technology might be deployed and which measures should be considered to increase the safety
of all the community’s residents.

Failing to review security measures after a criminal incident has occurred or neglecting to upgrade security measures as needed could certainly result in the association facing potential liability for negligence in the event a future crime occurs. One community I knew was considering removing their roving patrol as a means of cost-cutting and this was after a recent homicide on the property! After a frank conversation about the possible consequences of such a decision, the
board looked elsewhere to trim the budget. If a negligence claim has already been filed in connection with a criminal incident, an association should not be reluctant to take the necessary remedial steps to improve security as such remedial steps cannot be used against them in the underlying action.

Once you determine what security measures your community needs or wants to provide, the next issue becomes which of those security measures provide real deterrents to crime and which might provide only an illusion of security. For example, a manned guard gate might give a false sense of security to residents living in gated communities.

A friend living in a gated community recently told me that she doesn’t feel the need to lock her car doors because they have guards in her
community. But, just how realistic is that sense of security? In some communities, for example, security guards are really controlling ingress and egress and not much else. In some communities, perimeter walls can easily be scaled by anyone with nothing more than a step stool. But, even with access to the community under control, it is also important to remember that keeping people out of the community won’t do anything at all if there are crimes being committed by other residents of the community or their guests.

Many boards in gated communities address these limitations by tightening up standing orders with the guards to require a daily log of all vehicles entering and exiting the premises, including information such as the license plate numbers, driver identification, and time of entry. Some communities plant a row of thorny
plants along the perimeter walls to make hopping over them a lot more difficult, if not impossible. Of course, as with any other vendor, there are varying levels of quality amongst the security companies out there and a periodic assessment of the services being provided is in order.

What role, if any, should residents play in safeguarding themselves and their property? Residents in gated communities should be required twice a year to update their information at the guardhouse and to remove any people on their automatic entry lists who should no longer be granted automatic access to the property. The
same holds true for residents in high-rises with concierge service.

Residents who anticipate high-volume attendance at parties or events they will be holding
in their homes or on the common areas should be required to discuss those events in advance with the board and/or manager to ensure that any additional
necessary security measures are addressed.

Communities are well advised to encourage residents to take their own steps (in addition to measures provided by the association) to protect themselves and
their property. Many of these measures involve good, oldfashioned common sense and should include locking their vehicles and homes each night, trimming shrubbery
in front of their homes and units, alarming their property, and generally being aware of their surroundings. Residents who experience an incident should be encouraged to immediately report and discuss the incident with the board and/or manager and to allow the dissemination of necessary warnings throughout the various association communication channels.

Security is a two-way street and staying safe should be a partnership between the board and the association members, with an understanding that the community’s security should be regularly examined—at least once a year if no incidents have occurred, and more often if security incidents have increased—in order to see what new technology might be deployed and which measures should be considered to increase the safety of all the community’s residents.

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