I recently contacted James Ghrist, the crime prevention officer for the Munster, Indiana Police Department, and I asked him about his Business Crime Watch program.
“Our Business Crime Watch program is modeled after our Neighborhood Crime Watch program,” Ghrist told me. “When I took over as the crime prevention officer in 2005, I completely restructured the neighborhood program. I directed it towards keeping people informed; as I thought the more informed people are, the more likely they will be on guard against crime.”
Ghrist began to send out a Neighborhood Crime Watch Weekly Report. The report offers information on police blotter items, arrests, and a crime prevention topic each week. Ghrist sends the newsletter to the block captains and they forwarded it to their group members.
“In January of 2007 I decided to implement a Business Crime Watch program as well.”
Ghrist also sends out a Munster Business Crime Watch Weekly Report, which offers police blotter business items, business safety tips, and the same announcements as the neighborhood newsletter.
“The Business Crime Watch is a free program,” Ghrist said. “The program is sponsored by our Choice Community Council, which is a citizens group that works with the police department by meeting to discuss anti-drug, anti-gang, anti- violence programs. They have a fund that pays for all the signs, the window stickers and so on.”
Ghrist said the Business Crime Watch Weekly Report keeps businesses informed about crime trends. The report also encourages businesses to call the police if they see something or someone suspicious.
“We give businesses involved in the program a window sticker to place on their front door and if there are a number of businesses in an area that sign up for the program, we put a yellow business crime watch sign up in that area,” Ghrist said. “We now have more than 80 businesses, churches and nonprofit organizations.”
Ghrist said that the Business Crime Watch has large businesses like hospitals and large retail stores as well as small stores, neighborhood bars and restaurants.
“I believe it is important for the businesses community and the police department to work together on reducing crime,” Ghrist said. “A lot of the businesses are supportive of the other community policing programs, like D.A.R.E. and Shop With a Cop.”.
I asked Officer Ghrist how a small business owner would benefit by joining the Business Crime Watch.
“The information I’m going to provide you with each week is going to help keep you and your employees informed about what is going on in town,” Ghrist said. “It will help protect your business and your neighboring businesses because they are going to more aware and much more apt to call the police if they see suspicious people.”
Ghrist said that the Business Crime Watch also provides crime prevention tips. The tips help business owners take proper precautions.
“A Business Crime Watch creates a very strong communication link,” Ghrist explained. “If a business owner does not see enough cops around, if a business has a problem with a certain customer, or if business employees see a suspicious person hanging around outside the business, they can call me to resolve the issue. I’ll contact the patrol commander to get something done about it. I’m the liaison between the police and the business community.”
Ghrist, a ten-year police veteran, said that Munster has a very low crime rate, but they encounter the same business crimes as other towns and cities; burglaries, vandalism, and shoplifting.
As part of the Business Crime Watch, Ghrist conducts business security inspections. He inspects businesses and gives them a list of things they can do to make their business a hard target.
A small business should have security cameras and they should have a sign right at the front entrance that states customers are being monitored. Criminals have told the police that they tend to stay out of places with cameras.
Ghrist also encourage business owners to install alarms. Many alarms can be set up through a cell phone, so if someone clips the businesses’ phone wire, it will automatically set off the alarm and inform the business owner’s cell phone.
Ghrist said that he loves his job. He explained that he grew up in Munster, he has a lot of pride in Munster and he wants the town to remain a strong, safe community.
“A lot of places have Business Crime Watch signs,” Ghrist said. “But our signs have a lot of meaning behind them. The signs mean that people are informed and that they are a band of people who look out for each other.”
Business owners should call their local police department and ask if they have a Business Crime Watch program. If they do, join it. If they don’t, ask the police department to organize one.