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Industry Alert

Over the past six months, I have been compiling information and stories about a growing threat to our industry. Self-storage facilities from coast to coast have been experiencing a growing number of robberies and crime-related incidents.

In the Charlotte, N.C., area alone, where my office is located, we have had more than a dozen robberies, as well as a recent homicide where an employee was found slain. The Texas Mini Storage Association just issued a warning to Austin facilities about a string of incidents in that area. More recently, in Missouri, three bodies concealed in 55-gallon drums were found at a storage facility. The scary part of this whole situation is that these are just a few incidents publicized by the media. There are probably many other crimes that have taken place, but people are apprehensive about discussing them.

Inside Jobs?

The owners of the facilities targeted in my area believe the criminals had worked from within. The intruders were very familiar with the security systems and layout of the facilities. In many cases, these intruders knew exactly which units to compromise and which to pass up.

Even a local investigator I had the opportunity to speak with said he believes this is the work of an organized gang of break-in artists. They are even preying on facilities that have extra security measures, such as surveillance, access control and the like. Disk locks were even cut in some cases and, as many of you know, this padlock is preferred in the industry specifically for its resistance against cutting. All of these signs indicate this to be the work of true professionals with a self-storage background, not just common thieves.

We have even found recent cases of criminals using the same tools that managers and owners use to compromise unit locks. These are tools that should only be in the hands of bonded trade professionals. Think about it for a moment: If you are out on your property where all eyes can see you and you are cutting, grinding or even picking a unit's padlock, you have just shown your tenants how to gain access.

The only requirement to possessing these tools in our industry is that you be a manager or owner of a storage facility. These same tools have leaked into other industries where as well. Please, don't misunderstand: I am not implying these individuals aren't trustworthy. I am simply saying that we have lost track somewhere. In the past, there were more regulations and control over tools of this kind. They weren't nearly as accessible as they are today.

What Can You Do?

A vast majority of both the newly built and retrofitted older facilities are taking their security measures to the next level. Many facility operators have grown tired of the illegal activities and theft occurring on their properties. Instead of being reliant on one particular security device, they are focusing on every possible aspect.

In addition to an increase in video surveillance and card-access systems, I personally have seen a dramatic increase in the use of cylinder lock and latch systems, especially the master-keyed versions. Facilities operating with these systems have reported little to no crime. They not only weed out the customers with illegal intentions, but also bring high security back to where it belongs. These systems, along with all of the other key elements of your facility's security system, should be evaluated. Seek the advice of experts in every part of your property's system and build a program that ties all of the elements together. Your customers not only deserve it, but they are counting on you to provide them with a safe, secure place to store their belongings.

We can overcome the rising crime rate of this industry through communication and increased security, and by taking some simple, inexpensive steps:

  1. Screen your employees carefully. Check references.
  2. If your facility has experienced a theft or any other crime-related incident, don't keep it to yourself. Warn others.
  3. Create an Incident Report form and use it to document and report questionable activities within the facility so that both your employees and the police are aware of any suspicious acts.
  4. Ask local law enforcement about different services they provide or if they patrol your area. (Some facilities have even asked private security patrol services.)

The only customers that won't appreciate your efforts will probably be the ones causing the problems. The remainder of your customer base will not only appreciate your efforts, but they will also feel more confident in the security of their property.

Chris Shope is the national sales manager for Lock America Inc. (dba L.A.I. Group) based in Garden Grove, Calif. L.A.I. Group manufactures a complete line of security locks and hardware for self-storage and other industries. For more information, Mr. Shope can be reached at the company's Southeast office at (704) 824-8363; e-mail [email protected].

Share Your Stories

When it comes to battling crime at your facility, awareness is half the fight. Have you had an experience with a crime-related incident you'd like to share with other operators and managers? Any advice on crime-prevention strategies that have worked for you at your facility? Please share your insights with us via e-mail: [email protected]; fax (480) 990-0819; mail to Inside Self-Storage, P.O. Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 85067-0079.

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