Crime Prevention Tip of the Month - February
Business Watch Circular
The purpose of this circular is to standardize Business Watch information presented during business-related community crime prevention meetings. This circular will assist Department personnel conducting Business Watch meetings to impart basic crime prevention techniques to business owners, managers and employees. Business Watch is an alliance between the Los Angeles Police Department, business owners, managers and employees, for the purpose of preventing crime.
Business Watch stresses teamwork, crime prevention education and businesses working together with the police to prevent crime. In the Business Watch program, business owners, managers and employees are taught valuable crime prevention techniques that help them reduce losses and criminal opportunity.
Business Watch also stresses communication between businesses and the Department, such as the exchange of telephone numbers to be used in the event of a crime or other emergency; and information regarding suspicious persons, potential shoplifters or any other criminal activity.
Every business owner, manager and employee plays a part in making businesses safe. Here are some things you can do to help prevent robbery:
- Have at least two employees open and close the business;
- Do not release personal information to strangers;
- Keep purses and personal valuables locked in desks or lockers;
- Install a robbery alarm;
- Place a surveillance camera behind the cash register facing the front counter. Replace videotapes regularly;
- Avoid routine bank transactions, rotate banking days and vary times and routes of travel for bank deposits. Have two employees make the deposit, with one employee designated to be vigilant of suspicious persons or activity. If followed while enroute to make a deposit, drive to a busy area or the nearest police or fire station for assistance. Park as close as possible to the location where the deposit is being made. Report all suspicious activities to bank management or staff;
- Don't use marked "moneybags" that make it obvious to would-be robbers you are carrying money for deposit. Carry money in nondescript carriers;
- Keep a low balance in the cash register;
- Place excess money in a safe or deposit it as soon as possible;
- Cooperate with the robber for your own safety and the safety of others. Comply with a robber's demands. Remain calm and think clearly. Make mental notes of the robber's physical description and other observations important to law enforcement officers;
- If you have a silent alarm and can reach it without being noticed, use it. Otherwise, wait until the robber leaves;
- Be careful, most robbers are just as nervous as you are;
- Keep your business neat and clean. A tidy, orderly place of business is inviting to customers, but not to robbers;
- Personal appearance, dressing appropriately and being neat and clean also "sends a strong message" to robbers that you and your staff are professionals who are alert and prepared to handle any situation;
- Stay alert! Know who is in your business and where they are. Watch for people who hang around without buying anything. Also, be aware of suspicious activity outside your place of business. Write down license numbers of suspicious vehicles if visible from the inside of your business;
- Make sure the sales counter can be seen clearly. Don't put up advertisements, flyers, displays, signs, posters or other items on windows or doors that might obstruct the view of the cash register from inside or outside your business. The police driving by your store need to see in;
- Try to greet customers as they enter your business. Look them in the eye, and ask them if they need help. Your attention can discourage a robber;
- Keep your business well-lit, inside and outside. Employees should report any burned-out lights to the business owner or manager. Keep trees and bushes trimmed, so they don't block any outdoor lights;
- Encourage the police to stop by your business;
- Learn the names of the officers who patrol your area;
- There are many Business Watch groups and associations throughout the City of Los Angeles. Make an effort to contact the Los Angeles Police Department, Community Relations Office in your area and inquire about how to join a local Business Watch group and to get involved. Joining a Business Watch group can be a valuable resource to keep you informed about local crime problems and to provide you with valuable crime prevention information to better protect your business and employees;
- Use care after dark. Be cautious when cleaning the parking lot or taking out the trash at night. Make sure another employee inside the business keeps you within sight while you are involved in work details outside of your building;
- If you see something suspicious, call the police. Never try to handle it yourself. It could cost you your life;
- Handle cash carefully. Avoid making your business a tempting target for robbers. Keep the amount of cash in registers low. Remove and place all large bills in your "money" safe as soon as possible. If a customer tries to pay with a large bill, politely ask if he or she has a smaller one. Explain that you keep very little cash on hand;
- Use only one register at night. Leave other registers empty and open. Tilt the register drawer to show there is no money in it;
- Leave blinds and drapes open when your business is closed. This allows police officers to visually inspect the inside of your business. It also makes it more difficult for criminals to conceal themselves and their criminal activities;
- Make sure important signs stay posted. For example, the front door should bear signs that say, "Clerk Cannot Open the Time Lock Safe;"
- If your business is robbed put your safety first. Don’t resist an armed robber. Your personal safety is more important than money or merchandise;
- Don't talk except to answer the robber's questions;
- Don't stare directly at the robber;
- Don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands in sight at all times, if the robber thinks you’re reaching for a weapon or alarm button your actions and furtive movements may lead the robber to violence;
- Remember, if another employee suddenly walks into the middle of a robbery in progress and startles the robber, it could lead to violence. Discuss this problem situation with your employees and develop a policy and procedure for handling situations like this, based on good common sense and the sound and prudent judgement of your employees;
- Don't chase or follow the robber out of your place of business; and
- Leave the job of catching the robber to the police.
After the Robbery
- Lock your business;
- Ask any witnesses to stay until the police arrive;
- Call the police and remain on the telephone;
- Call your business owner, manager, or other designated person;
- Call the security hotline, if applicable;
- Don't touch anything the robber may have touched; and
- Write down an accurate description of the robber, weapon, property taken, vehicle and its license plate number as soon as you are able to do so.
Is your business safe from burglary? The following information is designed to help you fight burglary through a risk management approach. Risk management may be defined as identifying areas of criminal vulnerability, analyzing the resulting potential profit loss and implementing appropriate security measures at a reasonable cost to your business. For your business burglary prevention program to be effective, active participation, interest and concern is needed.
Remember the following:
- Consider key control. Are office keys, master keys, safe keys and vehicle keys lying about? Do you know to whom your keys have been issued or entrusted? If management cannot answer these questions, your security risk factor is very high;
- Keep a record of all keys issued. Master keys and extra duplicates should be locked away for safekeeping. When a particular key is needed, everyone must sign for its use;
- Have all keys stamped with the words "Do Not Duplicate;"
- Familiarize your employees with your security systems and procedures. Efficient, alert, well-informed and understanding employees are necessary to help you protect your business;
- The address and name of your business should be visible from the street. Use large, reflectorized numbers. Mark your address with large, reflectorized numbers on the roof of your building for high visibility to police helicopter patrols;
- The entire perimeter of your property should be fenced. Depending on location, barbed-wire topping is recommended;
- When not in use, gates should be secured with good padlocks and chains;
- Electronic gates, alarms, closed circuit television, two-way communications and electric-eye gate openers assist in the detection and identification of intruders;
- Gates should have a predetermined opening and locking schedule with one employee responsible for that duty;
- Post warning signs encouraging customers and employees to always lock their unattended vehicles and to lock valuables in the trunk because valuables left in plain sight attract thieves;
- Deny burglars access to your roof by securing ladders, pallets, boxes, and crates away from your building;
- Property belonging to your business that must be stored outside of your main building should be protected from vandalism and theft by placing property in a locked storage shed;
- Deny burglars a place to hide by keeping grass and shrubs trimmed and debris cleared away from your property; and
- Alarms, trained guard dogs and regular security patrols will also help to secure property that must be stored outside.
At night, properly placed lighting will deter burglars. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recommends Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) Outdoor Lighting to improve security for your business. More light usually means less crime. The DWP Outdoor Lighting can help you prevent crime and it is inexpensive and maintenance-free.
All you need is a wooden DWP utility pole with an appropriate voltage within 25 feet of your property line to mount the light. The DWP will help you select fixtures that are best for you and provide free installation. Light fixtures for your business cost approximately $16.00 to $21.00 a month, and provide up to 165 times as much light as a standard 60-watt bulb.
For more information regarding the DWP Outdoor Lighting program call 1-800-342-5397. Remember the following:
- Illuminate your entire property from dusk to dawn to eliminate dark areas that intruders and criminals prefer;
- Install floodlights for alleyways, rear and front entrances and parking lots;
- Lighting should illuminate the roof of your building;
- Use lighting fixtures with a photoelectric cell or timer to ensure that lighting will be on when you need it;
- Locate light fixtures at the best height and location to maximize illumination, avoid blind spots and reduce shadows that provide hiding places for burglars;
- Install vandal-resistant covers over bulbs and locate fixtures to prevent easy access and to reduce the chance of intentional breakage;
- Burglars prefer darkness. Maintain interior lighting at a level that allows clear visibility into buildings to allow for law enforcement and civilian surveillance;
- Be sure that lights do not shine into the eyes of people passing on the street, motorists or police officers on patrol; and
- Inspect your lights regularly. Replace burned-out or broken lights immediately.
The building where you conduct your business is your second line of defense. Your building is an intruder's primary point of attack. Reduce vulnerability by hardening the target. Every opening in your building is a potential point of illegal entry. Remember the following:
- All exterior doors should be constructed of steel or aluminum alloy or solid-core hardwood, with a minimum of 16-gauge steel on side and rear doors. Glass doors should have burglar-resistant glass installed;
- Double doors should be secured with heavy-duty, multiple point, long flush bolts;
- The frame of the door must be as strong as the door;
- Exterior swinging doors should have a one-inch dead bolt with hardened steel insert and a free turning steel or brass tapered-cylinder guard;
- Double cylinder locks are recommended where glass is located within 40 inches of the locking mechanism;
- All exterior door latches should be of the anti-shim, deadlocking type;
- The strike plate should be securely attached to the frame of the door in direct alignment to receive the latch easily;
- All outside hinges should have non-removable hinge pins; and
- Install jamb studs in all exterior doors and security room doors with outside hinge pins.
- Sliding glass windows and single or double-hung sash windows should have locking pins, bolts, locks or swing latches installed to prevent opening from the building's exterior;
- Secure all windows. First floor windows should be protected with burglar resistant glass;
- To provide optimum window security install bars, grilles, grates or heavy-duty wire screening;
- Mylar window coverings are inexpensive deterrents;
- Skylights, ventilation openings, air conditioning/heating ducts and crawl spaces are all potential entry points for burglars. Permanently secure these openings by installing metal grilles or grates. If these openings cannot be permanently secured, be sure they are protected by an alarm system;
- Secure fire escape ladders to rooftops;
- Install locks on outside fuse boxes;
- Maintain an inventory of all office equipment; include the make, model and serial number of each item. Keep this inventory in a safe place. Keep it current by adding the identification numbers of all new equipment. Engrave your business name and your California Driver License or California Identification Card number on all office equipment. Secure removable equipment;
- Keep a log of keys issued to employees; use interchangeable cylinders on locks; change keys and combinations periodically; and
- Install convex and wall mirrors. Move high cost merchandise away from cash register. Small, expensive items should be kept in locked display cases.
The most common assaults on padlocks are made with bolt-cutters and pry bars. Quality padlocks should have the following:
- Laminated or extruded cases;
- Hardened steel shackle with a minimum diameter of 9/32 of an inch;
- A double locking bolt providing "heel and toe" locking;
- At least 5-pin tumblers in the cylinder;
- A key-retaining feature that prevents removal of the key until the padlock is locked; and
- The chain or hasp you use with the padlock should also be of high-quality hardened steel.
The interior of your building is your third line of defense. Your business should have a security room. The size of the room is dependent upon your specific needs. Remember the following:
- The security room should be void of windows;
- The solid door should open out and have a minimum one-inch dead bolt;
- Door buzzers and alarms are recommended; and
- The number of personnel having access should be strictly limited.
When a safe is used for your business, use a "money" safe for currency and a "records" safe for documents. Be sure that the resistance of the "money" safe is compatible with the needs of your business. Remember the following:
- Anchor your safe firmly to the floor;
- Standing safes should be illuminated and visible from outside the building. The front (or combination side) should be turned away from windows; and
- Limit the number of persons having access to keys and combinations. Change locks and combinations when principal employees are discharged or leave your employment.
Tools and Equipment
In addition to their potential for theft, unsecured tools or equipment may be used by a thief to knock down doors, open a safe or gain entry to your security room or cabinets. Remember the following:
- Tools and portable equipment should be secured in locked drawers or cabinets at the close of each business day. Large equipment should also be secured;
- Business machines should be secured by installing locks that secure the equipment in place;
- Your blank checks, check protectors, credit card machines and similar property should be secured in your safe at the end of each business day; and
- Valuable merchandise should be stored in your security room when your business is closed.
- In the event of a burglary, the chances of apprehending the burglar are greatly increased if the scene is left completely intact. Microscopic evidence may be vital and should be protected;
- Instruct all employees and co-workers to leave the scene completely undisturbed, if possible. Avoid using the burglar's entry and exit points;
- Telephone the police immediately; and
- Assist responding officers by providing information regarding all missing items, including the prerecorded list of serial numbers.
There are two basic types of intruder detection alarms, i.e., ringing and silent. The basic purpose of an alarm device is to deter an intruder from entering your business or to alert law enforcement of an illegal entry and assist in the rapid apprehension of the suspect. Some of the many time-tested reliable alarm devices are as follows:
- Audio Detectors
- Motion Detectors
- Photoelectric Detectors
- Electronic Fences
- Radio Frequency
- Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
- Electronic Doors and Gates
Regardless of the kind of alarm device you choose, be sure the alarm device thoroughly covers the intended area of protection. An alarm system should include these important features:
- A battery backup, fail-safe system;
- A fire-sensing capability; and
- A testing feature to check its operation.
The Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) requires that:
- Any person or firm maintaining or installing an alarm system at a business or residence must annually obtain a Police Commission Alarm Permit. Police Commission Alarm Permit Applications may be obtained from the City Clerk's Office.
- Audible alarm systems must automatically discontinue emissions after one-half hour.
- The name and telephone number of the person in responsible control of the alarm system must be posted conspicuously on and adjacent to the alarm housing.
Credit Card Precautions
- Ask for identification with every purchase;
- An example of valid identification includes a valid California Driver License or a California Identification Card;
- Don't accept credit cards without checking the "hot sheet" or telephoning for authorization; and
- Always destroy carbons from purchase invoices so that credit card numbers and names do not fall into the wrong hands.
Check Cashing Precautions
- Only accept local checks with current names and addresses printed on them;
- Examine each check closely. Do not accept checks with any alterations;
- Only accept payroll or government checks when you know the person or verify the check;
- Do not cash checks for more than the actual purchase;
- Do not accept postdated checks; and
- Do not accept two-or-more party checks.
Train your employees to be courteous and alert. A thief who thinks that he or she is being watched is less likely to steal. Take steps to prevent shoplifting. It's easier and safer to prevent shoplifting than it is to deal with a shoplifter.
Know the signs of shoplifting. Watch for someone who:
- Seems nervous;
- Avoids eye contact;
- Wanders around the store without buying anything;
- Leaves the store and returns to your business repeatedly in a short period of time;
- Stays in an area of your business where he or she is hard to see; and
- Keeps watching you or is constantly looking around.
Use simple measures to discourage shoplifting. For example:
- Stay alert at all times;
- Be friendly and polite to all customers;
- Ask customers if they need help;
- Keep your business neat, clean and orderly; and
- Know where shoplifting is most likely to occur in your business.
Know what to do if shoplifting occurs. Play it safe:
- Never accuse anyone of stealing;
- Never try to physically stop a shoplifter;
- Never lock the door to keep a shoplifter from leaving;
- Never chase a shoplifter out of your place of business; and
- Remain at least an arm's length away from the shoplifter.
Give the person a chance to pay or put back the item. Be sure to know what was taken and where the customer hid it. Then politely ask the person a question, such as:
- Are you ready to pay?
- Would you like a bag for that item? (Name the item taken.)
Follow your instincts. Don't continue to confront a shoplifter if you start to feel frightened or uneasy. Get help when it's safe to do so. Call the police if you sense a threat of violence. Your personal safety is always more important. Use a log or some other method to share suspicions of shoplifting with your co-workers. When merchandise is displayed neatly in standard groups, three to four items per display, sales personnel can notice what is missing quickly. Place small expensive items in secure display cases close to sales personnel. A counter near an exit is an easy target for "grab and run" thieves.
Display signs announcing that "shoplifters" will be prosecuted, and this company will cooperate with the police and the prosecutor.
From time to time you may have to deal with problem customers. Being prepared for difficult situations will help you deal with them. Know what kinds of situations you may face. They include:
- Bad language
- Sexual advances
- Racial slurs
- Repeated questions
Violence may occur without warning. But it often occurs with harassment and intimidation. A person may turn to violence as a last resort. Some suggestions to help you avoid trouble:
- Be polite and friendly to all customers;
- Notice customers as they enter the store. Look for signs that customers are upset or under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- Learn to recognize customers who are likely to cause trouble;
- Stay calm. Listen to each customer and respond in a calm voice;
- Try to steer the customer's anger away from you. For example, if the person is angry because you can't sell her or him a beer, explain that you are just obeying the law;
- Encourage customers who are angry or upset to call the business owner or manager;
- Don't react to a customer's anger with anger, or trade insults;
- Don't take a customer's complaints personally;
- Don't "talk down" to a customer; and
- Don't try to physically stop or hold a customer.
What should you do if you feel in danger of being attacked? Trust your gut feeling. You can often tell if a person is dangerous. He or she may seem to:
- Get angry quickly
- Be about to explode
- Be looking for a fight
Plan on how to escape. It is important that you be able to get away from a dangerous situation. Make sure to:
- Think about the escape routes in advance;
- Keep some distance between you and the person;
- Try to prevent the person from getting between you and the door; and
- Get help as soon as possible. Call the police. If you need to, leave your place of business as soon as possible and go for help.
Don't allow loitering. Loitering simply means people hanging around your place of business, inside or outside, without buying anything. Loitering is a serious problem, if left unchecked, it may:
- Discourage customers from coming to your place of business;
- Lead to harassment and other problems; and
- Create a bad image for your business.
Take action against loitering. Remember the following:
- You may need to take action when you first observe a potential problem develop, don't wait until a group gets larger or violence occurs;
- Be sure you have a good view of the parking lot, and keep it clean;
- See that "No Loitering" and "Parking Restriction" signs are posted;
- Politely speak to the person loitering, but never leave your business unattended to go outside;
- Never place yourself in an unsafe situation; and
- Call the police, if the person continues loitering.
Know how to respond during a power failure. Be sure to keep a flashlight handy in case the lights go out. Remember the following:
- Contact the business owner or manager to find out if you should stay open;
- Make sure you know how to record sales and secure cash;
- Make sure all vault doors are secure;
- Turn off the circuit breakers. This will help avoid a power surge when the power comes back on. You may want to leave on the breakers for the lights, so you will know when the power comes back on;
- Be extra careful after dark. You will probably need to close the business and lock the front and rear doors; and
- After the power comes back on, check to make sure all electrical equipment is on and working properly.
Don't assume it is a prank. Listen carefully to what the caller is saying. Write down the exact words the person uses. Try to determine the caller's sex, age and race. Listen for anything that might identify the person or where the call is coming from. Report the incident to the police and ask for instructions. You should call the business owner or manager. Do not search your business by yourself or move any suspicious objects. Evacuate your business until the police arrive.
Call the police. Pumping gas without paying is theft. Get a description of the car and the driver and anyone else in the car. Note the make, model, and color of the car, and the license plate number. Don't leave the store. As always, your personal safety comes first. Don't attempt to physically stop, detain, or chase the person.
Businesses suffering from high crime usually have apathy to blame, since a business that appears neglected is an invitation to criminals. Littered parking lots, gang graffiti on buildings and walls, broken fences, overgrown landscaping, windows cluttered with advertisements and poor lighting, sends a message to criminals that business owners, managers and employees have delegated responsibility for crime control entirely to the police.
However, criminals know that the police cannot be everywhere at once. Criminals calculate their risk carefully, they know that their easiest targets lie in areas unwatched by business owners, managers, employees and local residents. The best deterrent to business-related crime is business owners, managers and employees who care, as hundreds of Business Watch programs across the country are proving. Business Watch programs encourage business owners and managers to protect each others businesses, lives and property by securing their own businesses and reporting criminal activity and suspicious activities to the police. We have established a "safety minded attitude." We have also covered several aspects of everyday life where safety can be improved. Let your intuition be your guide. Always stay alert, be safe and enjoy life.
Ask members of the audience to share their business-related experiences and encourage them to identify additional areas in their daily business-related activities where they can improve their safety.
The Business Watch program information included in this circular was compiled from materials obtained from the following:
- Los Angeles Police Department’s Crime Prevention Resource Center
- Crime Prevention Center, Office of the Attorney General
- California Crime Prevention Officers Association (CCPOA)
- Channing L. Bete Company
- The Southland Corporation
Any questions regarding the Business Watch Circular should be directed to Crime Prevention Unit, Community Relations Section, at 213-485-3134.