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The Neighbors are Watching

By Kristin Amarillas, CMCA, AMS, PCAM 

CRIME IS ON the rise throughout California. This is not a general statement; it is a fact that has been shared with community managers throughout the state by local law enforcement. And it is not the first time we have heard this; in fact, we hear it every year. Since crime is regularly on the rise, we need to take steps to assist us in living with it in a way that will best prepare the community from being a target.

With so many options to address crime prevention, it can be difficult to decide how to proceed, especially when some are costly or require a good deal of labor and follow-up to be impactful. The truth is, the best crime prevention programs will always require a great deal of labor. If the efforts implemented are put in place and then left to be autonomous, they will become ineffective or disarmed quickly.

Gates, cameras, security (courtesy patrol, stationary, or armed guards), lighting, and a neighborhood watch program are the most popular options for associations. Before going to bid, and before making decisions regarding crime prevention, the first step is to thoughtfully consider what type of crime you are experiencing and what is the desired outcome. When association boards are not sure, they should poll the community with a few basic questions. Community members will generally engage in surveys about crime prevention.

Once you have this input, and you have come together to identify the underlying issue, it’s time to prepare a prevention plan and begin the proposal process. It is also a good idea to contact your insurance agent and legal counsel, to share the feedback and get their thoughts on how to address the matter from a risk management perspective.

The more common impacts of crime on HOAs are vehicle break ins, mail theft, and transients. Here are my recommendations to address these common issues:

Vehicle Break-ins: Contrary to popular belief, access control and cameras do not always deter or even slow down vehicle break-ins. The best prevention plans for this activity are neighborhood watch programs, improved lighting, and/or stationary security guards.

Everyone wants cameras. It’s a top request among homeowners to solve any crime. However, cameras have drawbacks. They require that someone monitor and retrieve footage. That footage needs a policy in place, and your legal counsel can easily help with that. Keep in mind that thieves don’t hold up their ID to the camera, and often the resolution on cameras is poor, making it difficult to identify faces. But cameras can be useful tools for figuring out which homeowner dumped the couch in the common area.

Mail Theft: Mail theft primarily comes in waves during tax return season as well as during the holidays. This, however, is not always true. There are a few communities that receive an extraordinary number of parcels and experience a significant amount of theft as they have become a "honey hole" for thieves. Again, the best prevention plan for this activity is a neighborhood watch program, but this time with doorbell cameras. A doorbell camera is one of the best ways homeowners can directly defend their doorsteps and the packages at their doorsteps. If the issue is only at the mail kiosk, making sure it is upgraded to the newest high security style will prevent thefts, as well.

Transients: Having the community situated immediately next to an encampment of unsheltered people is one of the most difficult challenges we experience in management. It is tremendously difficult to resolve the situation and get any support from local officials. With such an extreme challenge, extreme prevention efforts are needed. These include access control, perimeter fencing, pedestrian gates, no trespassing signs, lighting (this one is for residents to feel comfortable in the community), and security in the form of stationary guards or armed guards. Armed guards are a bit of a difficult sell since oftentimes there are issues with obtaining insurance, as well as plenty of concerns from legal counsel.

Not all security is the same. Stationary guards are typically only able to (by company policy) observe and report. That means if they see someone committing a crime they are not committed to intervening. Patrol guards only drive through the community once or twice per night, and the chances that they will catch a crime occurring are very low. They are usually best used for parking control and gate lockups. Armed guards are typically stationary; but, by company policy they can confront and ID the suspect, make arrests, and file police reports.

In conclusion, the best and most effective crime prevention policy is a neighborhood watch program. When we think of the communities that have the least crime, they are the neighborhoods where neighbors speak with each other, know each other’s schedules and families, and have a group of volunteers who regularly walk the community and keep each other apprised of activity. Having a well-established neighborhood watch program takes some planning, as well as training; but the fruit of that labor for all is a safe community.


Kristin Amarillas, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, has almost 20 years of industry experience through a variety of roles such as program management, parking management, human resources, accounting, and marketing. Her most recent community management experience has been in board member education. Kristin currently serves as a director for the CAI Bay Cen Board of Directors.



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