“Police seek three people accused of burglarizing 12 storage units last month.”
“Storage crime spree reveals weaknesses in property storage security.”
“Police find locks removed from five self-storage units.”
These are the types of headlines with which you never want your storage business to be associated. Because once the news gets out that your property isn’t secure, customers won’t trust you to store their belongings anymore. To stave off incidents like these, you must institute extensive, systematic crime prevention.
Unfortunately, our industry can be a target for many offenders. Incidents include burglary, vandalism, the storage and manufacture of drugs, the storage of stolen or illegal merchandise, identity theft, and others—even crimes as lurid as kidnapping and prostitution. They’re committed by a wide range of individuals, from professional thieves to customers and the people with whom they’ve shared access. It’s up to you, the facility operator, to establish security measures that prevent and minimize criminal activity.
The first step is to do an assessment of the security you already have in place. Consider:
- Fencing: Walk around your property and examine the fence. Is it in good shape or are there bent poles, compromised mesh or rust? Any damage should be fixed.
- Lighting: Do your lights cover all areas of the property or are there dark spots where criminals can gain access without being noticed? If so, consider additional lighting.
- Locks: Do you use cylinder locks on your units? If not, consider them, as they’re much more secure than padlocks or disc locks.
- Keypads: If your property has basic, low-tech keypad entry, it may be time to upgrade to a more integrated access system that can communicate with your management software.
- Video cameras: Consider upgrading to a digital-surveillance system that’s high-definition or Internet-protocol-based. This will give you higher image resolution and allow for cloud storage.
Your Role in Reducing Crime
You may have heard of the “broken-windows theory.” It’s the idea that criminals are more likely to target a business that displays signs of disorder or disregard. Things like trash, graffiti, bent fencing, broken lights are signals that the property isn’t being properly cared for or watched.
This is why it’s imperative to do frequent, consistent walk-throughs of your entire property. This can be done while performing lock checks. Look for anything that’s out of place. Trash and tenant debris should be discarded. Access points should be checked to ensure proper function. Vandalism needs to be cleaned or repaired as soon as possible.
You can also prevent crime by communicating with new and existing customers. When giving a prospect a tour, point out the security you have in place and mention how active you are in patrolling the property. If you have a relationship with local law enforcement, bring it up. If the customer is renting the unit to gain access to the facility and commit a crime, you may have given him reason to think twice.
Engage tenants in conversation whenever you see them in the office or on the grounds. Criminals who perform “inside jobs” like the idea of anonymity. Greeting them by name and asking an innocuous question like “How’s it going today?” will be seen as good customer service by upstanding tenants; conversely, potential criminals may reconsider their plans if they believe they’re being watched.
If you don’t have a relationship with local police, consider developing one. Invite officers from the precinct for a tour. This way, if there’s ever a break-in, they’ll have a sense of the layout and be able to react quicker. Some facilities allow local law enforcement to do K9 training on their premises. Not only will their presence give would-be crooks pause, you can promote this on your website and through signage to give customers an added sense of security.
While preventing crime at your facility is important, your No. 1 concern should be safety for employees, customers and guests. To that end, it’s important to institute staff guidelines for various situations. Train employees in what to do when faced with specific scenarios, for example, in the event of a medical emergency or if they suspect illegal activity in a unit.
The most important instruction to convey is they should never put themselves in danger or take matters into their own hands. Instead, contacting authorities is the best course of action.
One of the easiest ways for criminals to gain access to your facility is by renting a unit. The key is to stop them from becoming tenants. Ask each prospect a few questions about why he needs a storage unit, what he’s storing and how long he’ll need the space. Listen to the answers. If he responds haltingly or changes his story halfway through the process, these may be signs that you should dissuade this person from renting.
If you’ve had problems with tenant crime in the past, you may have to take additional steps, such as conducting criminal history and credit checks. While you may lose some business over this practice, it can be worthwhile in terms of making your facility more secure. Just remember that if you put these types of checks into your rental process, by law, you must screen every applicant so as not to be discriminatory.
The strategies provided above can apply to most self-storage facilities, but if you have a property in a particularly dangerous area, you may have to take additional action. For example, consider restricting your access hours. If you’ve had more than your fair share of unit break-ins, it might be time to install individual door alarms.
By taking the necessary steps to upgrade your security and training staff on what to watch for and do, you can drastically reduce the opportunity for crime at your storage facility. You’ll not only keep people and property safer, you’ll earn a better business reputation.
Derek Hines is a writer for West Coast Self-Storage, a self-storage management, acquisitions and development company with facilities in California, Oregon and Washington. He writes extensively on all subjects related to the storage industry. For more information, visit www.westcoastselfstorage.com.