By Kathy Danforth / Published October 2017
If there were a third law of community motions, it would state that for every proposal there is an equal and opposite counter-proposal (apologies to Newton). While that may be a bit of a stretch, almost every community decision has an alternative, adverse impact, potential downside, or cost to be considered. Security is no exception, so communities are routinely weighing how to mitigate any adverse effects or allay concerns regarding security procedures in order to devise the most effective, efficient system for their individual community.
Privacy concerns are one issue residents may raise regarding use of cameras and other systems. Gil Neuman with Kent Services shares, “We have people who call and cannot support cameras. We’ve heard, ‘What if I’m cheating on my wife and they subpoena those tapes?’ But we live in an age where video coverage is everywhere and here to stay. It’s not going away.”
Neuman explains, “As a security company, I cannot deal with individuals; I work for the community. The community will choose what to do with those recordings. They are the community’s property, not mine. If a community doesn’t want to hold incriminating evidence, it may choose to discard recordings after 30 days if there were no issues or crimes.”
Some locations are more sensitive to abuse, such as pool areas. Neuman observes, “There’s always been childish play with cameras at the pool to watch girls, which is an abuse of power. We tell communities we don’t recommend looking at videos of the pool because people feel that their privacy is taken away. However, you have to consider that there is a minimum expectation of protection and surveillance, so if you have no cameras, you’re not living up to the management level that’s expected.”
To avoid misuse, Neuman advises, “We encourage customers to say goodbye to the human being and do everything remotely with videos and controls without a person. We use video analytics, with the camera sending real-time images. Camera surveillance is not what it used to be—it’s not just archiving material. If activity is detected, a text to alert management can be sent immediately, and an on-site speaker can address a trespasser. There are fewer people involved, but it is now an active tool.
“It’s totally legal to hide cameras as long as you’re not putting them in bathrooms,” notes Neuman. “We often use concealed cameras to stop theft or abuse. Though you can record video without permission or post a sign that recording is going on, posting is required for audio recording. At the gatehouse, where the security person interacts with visitors, audio recording is frequently used. We post a sign that both video and audio are being recorded to help people remember to be honest and respectful.”
Brie Peterson with Envera Systems relates, “There are often concerns about driver’s license scanning. When scanning a license, residents do not know what information the service provider is collecting from the magnetic strip. Our automatic driver’s license recognition kiosk does not scan the magnetic strip of any government-issued ID that is inserted. Instead, we only capture an image of the front of the card. Therefore, no ‘swiping’ takes place, and the private information on the back is secure.”
“Access control where you can track someone’s movements used to be an issue 20 years ago, but most people now realize it’s a management tool and don’t resist,” notes Neuman. “More residents object to using fingerprints because some are afraid it could be abused and used against them. Usually objections come from insecurities and not understanding the system.”
That said, Neuman stresses, “It’s crucial that management of the security database be given the right TLC and be safeguarded. If the system is not secure and maintained properly, the whole system is useless.”
Peterson advises that for data they collect, “All information and video surveillance is stored behind a firewall for security. This firewall is password-protected, meaning the video can only be accessed by a resident or community official with the PIN or someone from a designated department at our central station. Also, if we would like to use video from the community publicly, we ask for consent from the community and any recognizable people.”
Lighting for security can run counter to environmental protection, a situation regularly encountered along the beach with sea turtles. “We cannot get around that because the state is very involved in their protection, so we use infrared cameras,” explains Neuman. “No posting of the use of infrared is required. Some people believe posting signs is inviting a lawsuit, because you are implying that you are taking responsibility. You can’t have enough security to prevent every possible incident. We had a legal case that cost us money because we had signs saying the property was secured by our company, so we have taken off the signs.”
Aesthetics can also be affected by security choices. “Opinions depend on their other options and what they had before,” Neuman notes. Crime prevention through environmental design promotes clear lines of vision, but Neuman has found, “Many people like nice flower pots and trees or hedges instead of fences.”
“Some communities do worry about aesthetically pleasing security equipment,” Peterson shares. “For camera poles, we offer three different colors to choose from if they would like to match décor or landscape. We will also take specific requests for coloring of poles at an additional charge. Head end equipment is typically hidden inside a building, behind a building, or behind landscape. During our installation process, all conduit goes through ceiling or walls or is located underground so it is not noticeable. If possible, we try to use boring instead of trenching during installation, and we try not to impact the landscape.”
Long wait times at a community entrance can be a contentious issue. Neuman states, “I’ve seen the police actually get involved and order gates opened because traffic in the streets was affected. A major factor is how far the gatehouse is from the street. People want rules, but they’re upset if they have to personally wait 30 seconds. It’s human nature, but most understand you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
Peterson notes that auto-verification can expedite the entrance process. “There are two types of auto-verification: driver’s license recognition and license plate recognition. They work similarly by capturing an image of a government-issued identification card or license plate when a driver pulls up to the gate. If the name on the driver’s license or the license plate is recognized as a permanent resident or authorized visitor, then the gate will open. This greatly reduces stacking at entrances and speeds up the exit times.”
Property maintenance also intersects with security, as do most management decisions. “We get involved with the management company to have someone check empty houses,” says Neuman. “We have to work with management on every decision because every decision affects us on an hourly basis.”
Both Neuman and Peterson agree that the cost of security is behind most resistance to security measures. “This can be for many reasons,” according to Peterson. “First, some communities do not budget for the security measures or systems they probably need. Also, there can be disagreements amongst community decision-makers on the amount of security needed. Finally, many communities do not see the benefits of security measures until something happens at or inside their community that a security measure could have prevented or helped resolve.”
“People like security until they see it’s not for free,” observes Neuman. “If security gets the same budget as carpet or paint, I’ll be happy. At the end of the day, it’s always down to money. People feel that whatever they pay is too much.”
There are real costs to not paying for security, though. Neuman cautions, “When you’ve been a victim, you can’t go into your house the same way again. Everything changes. And nobody should have to be a victim before they take preventive measures.
“At the same time, good security is much more than eliminating crime,” Neuman points out. “It’s an active member of a team that is there 24/7.” A strong security program is able to
provide information regarding whether there are new people on the property, which may be in violation of rental or other restrictions in some communities, so that management can take appropriate steps.
To deal with the issue of expense, Neuman recommends, “Build a short-term and a long-term plan. Build a blueprint of where you want to be five years out and where you want to be right away. Think about it: security is a necessity that you have to deal with.”
A Neighborhood Watch program can be an economical approach to security issues. “It’s a wonderful supplement, but since you’re dealing with volunteers, it’s often not consistent,” according to Neuman. “Usually fewer people stick with it as time goes on, and it’s not sustainable unless there’s a need and people feel threatened.”
Peterson adds, “A Neighborhood Watch or similar program can be a good initial step in security. However, there are potential risks when members try to take problems into their own hands. In the end, if there is a problem or something suspicious, it is best to have the authorities.”
A focus on sophisticated measures should not obscure the use of basics and easily accessible tools. Neuman advises, “There are websites like www.crimemapping.com that provide daily updates on crime in the area. You need to be aware if there is a problem across the street. The local police department will have important tools and a tremendous amount of literature. Read it—it’s there for a purpose. The local police department will send an officer to do a survey. That’s very helpful, and you should always have a relationship with your local police. If you call security companies for a proposal, you’ll get a free consultation on what you need to do. They will show you your weak spots and some quick solutions for free, so you don’t have to hire a consultant.
“We are still concerned about the basics. We still see doors left open and keys left in the car. The individual is responsible for locking doors, turning on the alarm, and making sure there are no signs that no one is home. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own safety,” Neuman remarks. “Without the most basic steps, don’t expect miracles to happen. That’s the most important part.”
Gil Neuman is with Kent Services. For more information, call (800) 273-KENT or visit www.kentsecurity.com.
Brie Peterson is with Envera Systems. For more information, call (855) 380-1274 or visit www.enverasystems.com.