On Crime & Security
The National Crime Prevention Council estimates that crimes -- burglary, robbery, vandalism, shoplifting, employee theft and fraud -- are particularly devastating to small businesses. Often, small businesses react to the threat of crime by changing their hours of operation, raising prices to cover the losses, relocating or simply closing up shop.
Unlike big businesses, small business and home business entrepreneurs generally don't have their own security officer, so they are often targeted by thieves and scam artists who believe they are vulnerable. In this column, I hope to act as your crime prevention and security awareness officer. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
I've been a student of crime since I was an aspiring writer growing up in South Philadelphia. I went on to do security work in the U.S. Navy and later as a Defense Department civilian. As a crime reporter and columnist for newspapers, magazines and the Internet, I've covered violent crime, theft, workplace violence, white-collar crime, organized crime, traditional and industrial espionage, homicide and terrorism.
Each week I'll cover crime news, issues and trends and offer you crime prevention tips, security advisories and public service information. I'll explain who the bad guys are, how they operate and what you can do to avoid becoming a crime victim. I'll interview law enforcement and security professionals as well as business people who have been victimized. I hope that you'll contact me and help me use this column as a forum regarding crime and security matters for small business and home business people.
Short of murder and rape, perhaps no crime is more dangerous and devastating than armed robbery. I've interviewed more than my share of robbery victims and they all spoke of the fear and helplessness when facing someone with a gun or knife who is demanding money. This is a crime that haunts victims for years after the incident.
Small business and home business people often must travel and the business traveler has long been a victim for robbers. Today's modern highwayman might rob you in your car, a hotel room, a rest room, a parking lot, an elevator or even a hotel lobby.
Criminals, like sharks, pick out their targets based on perceived weaknesses. Are you wearily walking through a darkened parking lot? Are you drunk and fumbling for your hotel room key? Are you bone-tired and closing your eyes at each red light? Criminals will sense your vulnerability and pounce on you.
Nearly all crimes are preventable, I've been told by numerous law enforcement and security professionals. You must always be alert and aware of your surroundings, a phrase they all use and one that you'll see here quite often. Consider the fact that there are criminal predators out there and that you can become a victim as easily as the next person. Take simple, commonsense precautions.
When traveling by car, keep the doors locked and the windows up. Stay on the main streets and roads and avoid short-cuts that you've never taken before. Drive during daylight or early evening hours when there are other cars on the roads and streets.
Always carry a charged cell phone and use it if you're in an accident, even if people on the scene are claiming to be police officers. Criminals have been known to impersonate officers. Criminals have also caused accidents just to get you to pull over. Trust your instincts and follow them.
Personally, I carry a good, heavy, metal flashlight next to the driver's seat. A flashlight can be an indispensable tool.
If you have a store or business office, keep it well-lighted and have more than one person upfront, if you can. Install a video surveillance and alarm system. I know that can be expensive but they are often worth the cost in terms of a deterrent for some robbers and they provide evidence against those who rob you. Your system should include an electronic door-release to prevent people from rushing in and then rushing out.
If you if you have a cash register, keep it front and center, so someone passing by can see if you are being robbed. Install a panic button connected to the police or security company, or at the least, have a telephone nearby with 911 on the speed dial.
If you work at home, be cautious about opening the door for unexpected visitors, even if they claim to be utility or city/county workers. Don't be fooled by uniforms, as anyone can purchase a uniform. A police officer once told me of a thief who wore a plain brown uniform and carried a clipboard to look official. This worked well as many people opened their doors for him before he was finally caught.
Ask for ID behind the safety of your door. Tell them you are calling to confirm their identities. If they are legitimate, they'll wait. Remember that once you've let the person in your home and home office, you might be at their mercy. And armed robbers are not widely known for mercy.
Don't establish a routine of when you leave your home office or business for the bank with cash. If an armed robber is watching you over time, they will know just when to take you down.
Lastly, be advised that many crimes are committed with the aid of an employee, friend or family member, so be careful what you tell about your business, security systems, travel plans and money. It's a sad commentary, but it pays to be security-conscious.
And that's my goal with this column - making you security-conscious.
You should be concerned about crime, but not overly concerned. Take precautions, but don't live in fear. Talk to your neighbors, fellow business people and the local police about crime in your area. And be sure to write me with your questions and concerns. I'd also like to hear about your experiences.