Special Report: Security & Crime
While no conclusive landmark study proves security prevents crime, maturing technologies and partnerships are proving security is a bona fide crime-fighting tool.
In Greek mythology, Panacea was a goddess of universal remedy, using a single potion to heal the sick. Today the term is also used figuratively to describe something capable of completely solving a large, complex problem — like crime. Those of us in the security industry might want to think of security as a panacea, a powerful remedy to help prevent crime. However, research does not prove that it is. “[Security]… is not a panacea,” caution the authors of “Measuring the Effects of Video Surveillance on Crime in Los Angeles,” prepared for the California Research Bureau, May 2008.
Instead, a closer look at the research and industry opinions displays a complex relationship between security and crime where security is more likened to a tool, one tool in a toolbox of crime prevention strategies that also includes law enforcement and social programs.
“Inasmuch as the promise of public surveillance cameras as a crime prevention and control tool is a powerful motivator for those investing in the technology, it is important to view it in the context of a larger community policing framework. Surveillance cameras alone are a not a silver bullet, but simply another crime control and investigative tool,” state the authors of the report, “Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention,” published September 2011.
The study goes on to say, “Cameras are most likely to have an impact when they are highly concentrated, actively monitored, and well integrated into law enforcement crime control and investigative activities.”
James Alan Fox, Ph.D., The Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy, Northeastern University, Boston, explains, “The most effective crime prevention strategy is a balanced blend of target hardening (with something like a security system), police response and social programs. There are good security measures and not-so-good security measures. There are good police departments and not-so-good police departments. There are effective social programs and not-so-effective social programs, so you can’t accurately rank which is more effective or important,” Fox believes.
So security should be viewed as a tool — one tool that comes in numerous forms; its effect on crime shrouded by an equally numerous amount of simultaneous influencers. This caution serves as an apt place to begin investigating the complex relationship between crime and security.
Crime generally exists as an issue of public concern. In fact, even when crime numbers actually drop, the public still will remain concerned about crime. At the end of 2010, Gallup’s annual Crime Survey showed that two-thirds of Americans believed there was more crime in the United States than there was in the previous year, reflecting Americans’ general tendency to consistently perceive crime as increasing — despite both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics reporting drops in property and violent crime from 2008 to 2009 in separate studies, as well as documenting longer-term declines in both types of crime.
Statistics released in the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report indicate that the number of violent crimes reported in the first six months of 2011 declined 6.4 percent when compared with figures from the first six months of 2010. The number of property crimes decreased 3.7 percent for the same time period. The report is based on information from more than 12,500 law enforcement agencies that submitted three to six comparable months of data to the FBI in the first six months of 2010 and 2011.
“There has been a long-term decline in crime that has occurred in this country from 1990 to the present time and not enough credit has been given to the simultaneously increasing presence of security systems,” observes Robert D. McCrie, professor, Urban Crime, Standards Security Management, Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York.
“The last four years both violent crime and property crime have gone down every year. That has occurred over a period of time where we have had a great recession and traditionally the people will say, ‘In bad times crime goes up,’ but it hasn’t happened. Certainly part of the answer is security systems and security procedures that have been put in place,” McCrie believes.
Stephen Cercone, former chief of police for the Seaside Police Department in California and president of Police Chief Consultants, LLC, located near Sacramento, Calif., describes security measures as the first line of defense in any society.
“I believe the crime rate in the United States has been reduced over the years in large part because of the tremendous advances in security technology. Security measures of any kind are the first line of defense because law enforcement response is almost always delayed because of travel time or even higher priority calls for service. Security can do many things before and after the police arrive. It can stop a criminal, deter a criminal, or collect evidence to help capture and/or convict a criminal,” Cercone describes.
Much advancement in security has been driven by post 9/11 funding, a focus on national security, and the formation of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to a national survey conducted in October, 2001, shortly after 9/11 terrorist attacks, nearly 90 percent of American companies had taken actions to reevaluate their security operations, upgrade or buy new security systems, or increased security staff.
One of 9/11’s greatest impacts, however, was the door it opened in public acceptance of video surveillance as a security crime prevention tool. A Business Week survey conducted a week after the 9/11 terrorist attack found that 63 percent of the adults surveyed were in favor of expanded camera surveillance on streets and in public places.
The attitude persists just as strongly today. When San Francisco-based 3VR Inc. commissioned a poll in April 2011, conducted by Zogby463, more than 60 percent of Americans supported the use of video surveillance as a means of deterring crime in public areas. The 1,900 Americans polled listed banks (66 percent) and parking lots (62 percent) as the locations where video surveillance could make the largest positive security impact. Interestingly, 3VR’s poll found that Americans assume they are being watched, stating they believe video surveillance is deployed in the majority of public areas — banks (92 percent), government buildings (88 percent), parking lots (87 percent), shopping malls (87 percent) and retail stores (82 percent).
“People’s sense of intrusion decreased once the argument of safety became paramount following 9/11,” explains Marcus Nieto, a retired former California Research Bureau analyst. “There are still critics about individual rights and ensuring the space about them is free of surveillance. There will always be that small group. But other than that, the whole notion of surveillance has taken a second nature to people in the country.”
Nieto observed the change when he authored two reports on video surveillance, completed a decade apart, for the California Research Bureau. In the 1997 report, “Public Video Surveillance: Is It An Effective Crime Prevention Tool?” Neito observes, “A survey of a wide variety of companies with security expenses found that 75 percent utilize CCTV surveillance…[and] there are at least 13 American cities in which law enforcement officials are operating or implementing CCTV video surveillance as a way to prevent crime and promote public safety.”
In contrast, the March 2002 report, “Public and Private Applications of Video Surveillance and Biometric Technologies,” states, “Technological advances, declining costs, and heightened security concerns following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have led to rapid diffusion of both CCTV surveillance and biometric technologies…Industry officials estimate that there are about two million CCTV cameras used in the United States for public safety and for security purposes.”
But what impact does the surveillance have on crime? Like burglar alarms, the numbers aren’t always clear, and anecdotal or inferred information is used.
“While there has been no systematic or focused evaluation of the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance in ensuring public safety, anecdotal information suggests that it does have a chilling effect on crime in targeted areas,” observes Nieto in the 2002 report.
“Security products are valuable and effective risk management tools for people, businesses and institutions,” says Security Industry Association Chief Executive Officer Don Erickson. “Do they, on the whole, reduce crime? Studies, at a minimum, tend to show that electronic security equipment has positive effects on crime prevention in the immediate vicinity. Interestingly, this is similar to the conclusions of a 2004 study of the impact of police presence. And some findings, such as those in a 2008 study of burglar alarms in New Jersey communities, show a broader impact. While it’s difficult to tease out the effect society-wide, for the end user, the benefits of having security equipment — much like the benefits of having a police officer nearby — are undeniable.”
The Alarm Industry Research & Educational Foundation (AIREF) represents the electronic life safety, security and systems industry, under the auspices of the Electronic Security Association (ESA). Since AIREF’s beginnings in 1977, it has conducted research, working to validate the importance of alarm systems.
AIREF’S most notable study was the funding of a 300-page comprehensive study of five years of statistics by researchers at the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice (SCJ) in Newark, N.J., which positively found that residential burglar alarm systems decrease crime, linking a steady decrease in burglaries in Newark between 2001 and 2005 with an increase in the number of registered home burglar alarms. The study’s author, Dr. Seungmug Leesame, also recently used the same data to prove that the installation of a burglar alarm at one geographic point directly affects near locations, often causing the installation of other alarms. After a certain time period, a relatively dense geographic area for alarms is created and provides a “protective seal” over the area.
“It is very difficult to pin down with statistics the effectiveness of a security system, but you know it when you see it,” states Jay Stuck, vice president of Sales and chief marketing officer, SW24, New York. “All you have to do is ask a building owner, a tenant, a home owner — 99.9 percent will always say there is a deterrent value and they feel safer. We know that when we put cameras up in a building, the bad guys move on,” Stuck says.
Protection 1, Romeoville, Ill., reports that a survey of former convicts conducted last year by Protection 1 found that 75 percent of burglars would be deterred by the presence of a security system including a security company sign or sticker on or near the home. The survey found that:
• 82 percent said it is difficult or very difficult to burglarize a home with a security system.
• 89 percent said that they were not able to disable an alarm system if the target had a system installed.
Success commercially or residentially rests on getting the system installed correctly and integrated into the larger crime-fighting picture.
As the Urban Institute reported in “Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention,” “[Security technology] is only as good as the manner in which it is employed. If it is employed minimally or is not well-integrated into other policing functions, it is unlikely to yield a significant impact on crime.”
David Dickinson, senior vice president, Delta Scientific, Palmdale, Calif., describes it as putting a steel lid on a cardboard box. “Part of our service to our clients is to look at the big picture. For example, we sell high security barriers. In order for them to work, you still have to make sure the bad guys can’t simply drive around barriers through a fencing system near them. You have to harden the entire location and make it equally secure,” he explains.
“Any type of hardening the target (locks, steel doors, yard signs, etc.) provides incremental deterrence to crime. What is more important is what delivers the greatest value for the dollar. I believe that monitored video alarm systems deliver more arrests and greater value to all the stakeholders in property crime — consumers, insurers, police and alarm companies,” says Keith Jentoft, president of RSI Video Technologies, White Bear Lake, Minn., and coordinator of the newly formed Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response (PPVAR), a public/private organization focused on combating property crime and increasing arrest rates using video alarms. It is comprised of representatives from the electronic security industry, as well as police, sheriffs and the insurance industry. For more on the PPVAR, see “Video Priority Response Has New Champions” on page 18 of Insider. The group demonstrates a positive step taken by multiple players in the fight against crime to form stronger partnerships.
According to PPVAR, video alarms have proven arrest rates hundreds of times greater than traditional intrusion alarm systems. While arrest rates with traditional alarms are less than one-tenth of one percent (0.08 percent), video alarm systems have delivered arrest rates of more than 20 percent, and even up to 50 percent or better, the group says.
The arrest rates, already impressive, can only go up as technology continues to evolve, believes John Estrada, chief executive officer, CheckVideo, Reston, Va. “ Incorporating intelligence into remote video monitoring enhances situational awareness and overall security, which can only continue to have a positive impact on crime reduction. Video analytics-enabled solutions automatically watch video 24/7, analyze it for events of interest and send real-time alerts to a monitoring center or security personnel. Real-time event detection allows for rapid, focused response. This minimizes the likelihood of an incident actually occurring and helps law enforcement respond to any actual incidents, increasing the probability of an arrest.”
Sonitrol, owned by Stanley Convergent Security Solutions (Stanley CSS), Naperville, Ill., offers another form of verification — audio verification. Sonitrol has been keeping apprehension records since 1977. The statistics represent the Sonitrol network of dealers who have shared the numbers since they have been keeping the records. The records show that 87,463 actual incidents have resulted in 166,189 individuals apprehended with an average police response of five minutes (the police response was tracked through 2006).
“I believe law enforcement is frustrated with our industry because of the false alarm dilemma, but detecting true verified intrusions assists law enforcement in apprehensions and certainly would change the perspective of law enforcement in a positive way. Any law enforcement officer would tell you that they want to capture the intruder; so do most customers,” says Chip Shiver, president, Sonitrol of SW Ohio, Mason, Ohio.
So do insurers.
“There is no question that the insurance industry is gaining a stronger voice in the security industry. Insurance is participating in the PPVAR, which brings all the mutual players together for discussion. That industry’s emphasis is on arrests, and reflects a shifting focus from prevention alone to apprehensions,” describes Steve Walker, vice president customer service centers, Stanley CSS. “At Stanley Security CSS we view ourselves as leading providers of verified security solutions — both audio and video. We believe strongly in providing solutions that lead to priority response by law enforcement, which heightens the chance for arrests.
“The insurance industry seems to view apprehension as having a much stronger impact on crime than simple deterrence. Deterrence has its place, but apprehension is a big thing for reducing the repeat offenders and lowering costs for insurers,” Walker says.
Both violent crime and property crime come at a high price. In a 2008 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2007,” for crimes both reported and not reported to the police, the total economic loss to victims was $1.19 billion for violent crime and $16.21 billion for property crime. Those numbers heighten insurers’ demand for the security industry to make arrests with security systems.
Video verification has shown positive results for increasing the number of arrests.
For example, Detroit Public School Police Department (DPS PD) is responsible for protecting more than 230 facilities spread throughout Detroit’s 143 square miles. A declining population and shifting student enrollment required that some buildings be closed for renovation or resale, and these vacant buildings became targets for criminals looking to strip the structures of their copper wiring, pipes, and other fixtures. In mid-2009, Detroit decided to use video intrusion alarms to protect these vacant buildings. In the school year beginning August 2010, 101 burglaries occurred in vacant facilities and more than 70 of them have been closed with arrests — roughly a 70 percent closure rate.
Fred Lohmann, director, National Insurance Crime Bureau, Des Plaines, Ill., says, “Equipment is ultimately the decision of the end user, but video verification provides law enforcement with a tool for faster, more informed response that enhances their ability to actually arrest individuals that are breaking into homes, taking career criminals that do this many, many times off the streets. When you are able to make arrests, you will have absolute impact on the crimes. Law enforcement across the United States is struggling with diminished budgets. Everyone is accountable and systems are expected to get results — positive results,” he adds.
NICB is a not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft. NICB member companies wrote more than $319 billion in insurance premiums in 2010, or approximately 80 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance.
“We’ve been in the insurance crime-fighting arena for 100 years. Our interest lies in the efficient use of technology and the use of law enforcement issues to bring crime down. We don’t endorse a specific product or specific company, but anything that can be done to reduce property crimes and anything that can be done to reduce crime in general has a high value,” Lohmann says.
David Sexton, Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company, Neenah, Wis., says Jewelers Mutual also places a high value on arrests.
“All effective security boils down to reliable electronic protections and consistently followed procedural cautions and appropriate physical protection. On the reliable electronic side, the alarm system doesn’t do anything if there isn’t a reliable, speedy police response that is tied to it. In the jewelry insurance industry, we require physical protection — safes and locks and vaults and all of that — but there are no safes and locks that can’t be defeated if there is sufficient time for the container to be compromised. We need to get someone there as quickly as possible once the alarm has been triggered.
Jewelers Mutual was founded by jewelers in 1913. More than 225,000 individual policyholders carry in excess of $3 billion in personal jewelry insurance coverage through Jewelers Mutual.
“There is no jeweler today that doesn’t understand the importance of effective security. They need to determine what degree of security is needed given their individual circumstance, but the benefit of having good security is universally embraced by the people we insure and the idea of reliable electronic protection is central to our whole underwriting activity. So is police response. Alarm systems don’t capture criminals alone. It is the police response to the signal that provides the protection, so one of the areas we have been engaged in is looking at how do you sustain reliable response?”
Jentoft says, “Catching thieves or vandals in the act, before the damage is done, is a proven solution to reduce insurance claims and property damage. Video alarms do just that.”
Cercone extends Jentoft’s list of crimes captured by cameras. “Whether it’s a bank robbery suspect or a hit and run driver fleeing the scene of an accident, cameras have captured the images of suspects and vehicles all over the world. Security systems have been responsible for catching thousands of criminals over the years,” Cercone shares.
A Call for Partnerships
Stronger partnerships are the goal of Operation Partnership, a project sponsored by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office), addressing a key recommendation of the COPS/International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) National Policy Summit to examine law enforcement-private security (LE-PS) partnerships and develop guidelines for forming and sustaining them.
“Private security addresses crimes and public safety issues that law enforcement cannot handle alone because it lacks the human resources, mandate, or technology. LE-PS partnerships have existed for 30 years, but the need for LE-PS collaboration became more evident after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. With 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure owned by the private sector, police and private security must work jointly to protect these resources as well as to address other crime problems,” the report summarizes.
It is an attitude that has been a long time coming. A 1985 National Institute of Justice report by Cunningham and Taylor explained that despite continual increases in taxpayer dollars spent on the criminal justice system, “neither local, State, nor Federal resources had seriously affected the problem of crime” and that yet still “conspicuously absent from…crime prevention programs…is the input of the private security industry.”
There are new developments around the country that point to a shift in that area. For example, the Newark Police Department and SecureWatch 24, a security company in New York City with a Network Operations Center located in Moonachie, N.J., are partnering in an unprecedented relationship to combat local crime in a public/private partnership by allowing the police access to SW24 customer video recordings. The agreement allows the Newark Police to access local SW24 customer video records upon request in order to aid criminal investigations. Local SW24 customers will agree in advance to allow such access.
“Our local customers will agree to make their videos available to the police — thereby giving the police access to over 300 cameras without the need for taxpayers to pay a nickel. Our network of cameras is a ‘force multiplier’ for the 2,000 men and women of the Newark Police Department,” says Desmond Smyth, SW24 president.
Jentoft shares that a public/private partnership is exactly what is needed to increase security’s impact on crime — and more.
“Every party contributes and every stakeholder wins. Oddly, the alarm industry makes more money because it delivers greater value. Insurers promote/subsidize systems that deliver arrests and reduce claims. The alarm industry sells and monitors systems that deliver arrests and reduce claims. Law enforcement makes arrests and does not waste limited resources, and consumers and communities are safer and satisfied,” says Jentoft.
That sounds like a very powerful tool with a powerful impact against crime; a close second to a panacea.
Security in Action
A Royal Palm Beach gas station owner’s decision to install more security led to the arrest of a mother and her son, after the son, who once worked as a petroleum technician for Tiger Enterprises, used keys he had from the job to open a gas pump and fill six gas cans as well as his own car, all without paying. The gas station’s alarm system used magnetic contacts in the vicinity of the pump, similar to ones in a home security system. The sensors sent a signal to a receiver inside the gas station, triggering the alarm. The gas station owner, Lee Margolis, said he had the alarms installed after several break-ins to his gas pumps with at least $10,000 in damages. Margolis is now outfitting all of his pumps with sensors to make sure this crime doesn’t happen again.
Security in Action
On a recent Friday afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Roger M. of Manchester, N.H., were at work, ready for the weekend. Back at Monitronics, first-shift Emergency Dispatch Operator Demorian Newton received burglar alarms for the couple’s side door and hallway. Demorian quickly accessed the alarm via the two-way intercom and asked several times if assistance was needed. He listened closely but didn’t hear anything moving around in the house. Next he called the home phone but still got no answer. He then called Mrs. M’s cell. When she answered, he advised her about the alarm. She asked him to go ahead and dispatch the police. Demorian immediately called the police. When the officers arrived, they approached the house with caution and discovered a man burglarizing the home. The officers apprehended him without incident and took him to jail.
Later Mr. M. told the story: “Thanks to Monitronics and the fast police response, they actually caught my neighbor’s grown son in my house. He just got out of prison for crack cocaine and was staying with his mother. If it hadn’t been for Monitronics and the quick action of the PD, we would have lost a lot of our valuable belongings.”
Security in Action
In 2011, Sonitrol Pacific recorded its second highest number of detection-to-apprehension of suspects in the company’s history, toppling the previous second place total of 256 set in 1998 and falling two suspects short of the all-time record of 259 set in 1999. Of the 257 burglars, vandals and trespassers caught after they were detected by a Sonitrol Pacific security system, 32 percent were detected and caught before they even got inside the Sonitrol Pacific protected facility.
Security in Action
It pays to protect the entire property, as this story from Vivint proves. “My husband received a phone call from Vivint stating that our alarm had been triggered,” Sue explained. “He knew that I was at work so I couldn’t have accidentally triggered it and asked Vivint to dispatch police.” Police arrived at the home within five minutes of the call. “The burglar had tried using a crowbar to open our garage door, but our alarm scared him away.” The police told Sue and her husband they were lucky because most people don’t have an alarm system that also protects their garage, especially if it is a detached garage. “The police said even if a burglar sees the alarm sign on the lawn, they often don’t think the garage is armed,” Sue said.