K-9 Capers

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Security at Valley Warehouse and Storage Co. in Casa Grande, Ariz., has literally gone to the dogs. Looking to combat the usual crimes self-storage facilities face, owner Tom Erwin turned to local law-enforcement agencies for help. But he wasn't looking for more patrol time. Erwin took a different approach, offering K-9 officers something they desperately needed: a place to train their dogs.

Although Erwin, a 30-year industry veteran, had always relied on the usual crime-prevention devices--video cameras, alarms, a gated fence--he often wondered if there was an even better way to protect his 370-unit facility. Five years ago, he came up with the perfect solution. Erwin asked the Pinal County Narcotics Task Force if they would like to use Valley Warehouse as a K-9 training facility. Always looking for new training ground, they eagerly agreed. Other law-enforcement agencies, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, soon followed. "There are no training facilities for canines like this," Erwin says. "So you're giving back something to the community. It keeps the bad guys out of here, and protects my tenants and me."

Officers have a special entry-gate code and 24-hour access to the property. Signs posted along the front of the wrought-iron fence and displayed throughout the property warn: "This facility is used frequently as a training ground for law enforcement K-9 units." The signs also let passersby know police are there for a legitimate reason.

Law-enforcement personnel train on the grounds at all hours of the day and night, and individual officers frequently stop by the property in search of a quiet place to fill out daily reports. "They come in here and do their reports and know they're safe," Erwin says.

Because the officers have 24-hour access, there is no way for criminals to predict when officials will be on the site. "I've had them come in here at six in the evening and four in the morning," Erwin says. "Sometimes they come in here five days in a row. Other times, they haven't been here for two weeks. The hours are never set."

The nighttime activity also eliminates potential crimes after hours. "That's the time when there is a lack of security, even if you have security cameras," Erwin says. "Any smart bad guy can get around security cameras. All a camera can do is document someone has done something. They may deter some people, but there's all kinds of things a criminal can do to hide his face."

Inviting law enforcement to freely use the property is a good deterrent, Erwin says. Whether considering a break-in or conducting illegal activity inside a rental unit, potential criminals stay clear of Valley Warehouse and Storage Co. "It keeps the bad element out of here. It protects my premises and my employees," Erwin says. Valley Warehouse boasts no break-ins, attempted break-ins, graffiti or vandalism since the program's inception.

The unique security system also attracts customers, some from as far as 33 miles away. "They pass a lot of other facilities. The reason they come here is they know it's safe," Erwin says.

Erwin lets customers know about his partnership with the K-9 cops. Photos of the pups in action are featured in the facility's lobby, and Erwin tells every potential customer about the program. School children and community organizations have visited the facility to see the dogs train. Erwin also publicizes the security benefit on his business cards and in Yellow Pages ads. The local newspapers and the chamber of commerce even spotlighted the K-9 program. "You simply can't buy this kind of positive publicity," Erwin says.

The majority of customers wholeheartedly embrace the program because the presence of law enforcement gives them an increased sense of protection, Erwin says. However, a few have walked away after learning about the program. "We did have one tenant move out as soon as he heard about the K-9 units," Erwin says. "On the other hand, we had a customer tell us he didn't need a big lock on his unit because, as he put it, 'Your place is safe already.' That's a nice compliment."

Erwin suggests other facility owners consider this fresh approach to security. "You build a rapport with law enforcement; you're doing something good for the community; you're doing something good for the tenants; and you're doing something good for yourself."

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