New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Keeping Crime Out

Reducing crime is everybody’s business. By working together, you can make your residential complexes less desirable for criminals. Security takes a comprehensive approach, which starts with thorough planning.

Security is a science. But be warned: no two buildings are the same, so no two solutions will be the same. Concepts that may be applicable to a six-story walkup may not be appropriate for a 30-story high-rise or for a multi-building complex. But the following fundamentals should be germane in most residential environments.

The first and most important element in minimizing negative incidents is management’s commitment to building security. After receiving such a pledge and the allocation of necessary resources, the first practical step is to have a risk assessment conducted by a professional. If your board chooses not to pay for that, your local precinct can provide advice by a crime prevention officer.

Such an assessment is the analytical method used to minimize risk by applying security measures commensurate with the potential threats and vulnerabilities. To be most effective, the process should include a security survey and a neighborhood crime analysis for at least the preceding three years. The results can determine vulnerabilities by identifying anticipated future hazards.

With problem areas identified, you can then plan countermeasures and have in place an effective security program. This implementation process is known as the Systems Approach to Security (SAS).


The Systems Approach to Security calls for the integration of hardware, software, and people. Examples of “hardware” are closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, lights, locks, and alarms. Examples of “software” are posted orders and directives given to employees. Examples of “people” are the personnel assigned to a building complex, especially those with security duties.

Among the most effective ways of dealing with difficulties is to prevent them before they happen. This is the case when it comes to processing employees: perform a thorough background check on every applicant. As part of your guidelines, new employees should:

• Complete a written application.

• Agree to pre-employment screening.

• Agree to have a credit check made.

• Agree to have reference checks made.

• Agree to have their name on the uniform.

• Agree to wear a photo ID while on the premises.

• Be provided with written security rules and regulations.

• Not be employed if convicted of certain crimes.

With a proper staff retained, the next requirement is to provide adequate training. Every employee should have a realistic idea of what is expected. Written policies and procedures should be developed, clearly outlining everyone’s role. Doormen should be provided with written instructions, scheduled relief breaks, and phone access. Liaison with the appropriate police, fire, and other emergency services should be established. This is important so that these services can have the opportunity to review the emergency operations and procedures of your property.

Knowing how to deal with strangers can protect your building’s residents from harm. Inform them that if they see someone in the building who seems suspicious or to be out of place, they should contact the doorman or superintendent. If they feel that the stranger seems about to perform a criminal act, or is in the process of doing so, they should contact the police immediately.

Tell them not to let anyone enter the building unless they are positive of the person’s identity. Non-residents should be monitored while on the property. There should be sign-in procedures for guests and contractors. The board’s policy should be in writing and should be implemented consistently.

Intercom and buzzer entry systems are very effective security devices if used correctly. If used improperly, criminals can gain access. Residents should be provided with written instructions on how to operate the intercom. In non-doorman buildings, compliance rules should be tested. Educate your residents. Tell them not to buzz someone in unless they are absolutely positive of his or her identity. They should not buzz in a person who claims to be a friend or relative of a neighbor.

Install a large mirror in the elevator to alert occupants of the elevator of persons approaching. Convex mirrors should be installed to expose hidden corners and help prevent any surprise attacks.

Elevators cars can be equipped with emergency intercoms or phones. Elevators and their entrances should be properly illuminated and the interior lights protected so that they cannot be disconnected. Depending on the type of building, some may even be equipped with CCTV cameras.

If a resident allows a guest to stay in his apartment, he should be required to notify the superintendent that he has authorized visitors. He should provide the person’s name and the dates that the guest will be there.


Locks in individual apartments should always be in working order. Deadbolts with a one-inch throw are preferable. Alternatively, a drop-bolt may be used. To complement the lock, residents should install a pick-resistant cylinder, along with a cylinder guard plate. A licensed locksmith should be used. In situations where additional locks are required, they should be positioned 18 to 24 inches above or below the doorknob. They should not be placed so that they are out of reach of the disabled, the elderly, or children.

Every residential complex should have an effective extra-key policy. Management should always be provided with duplicate keys for apartments. Any resident who does not agree to that is endangering himself and his family, and will be subject to covering any expenses incurred for entering in the event of any emergency. There are various methods by which duplicate keys can be secured while in the possession of management. These can be locked in a file and are only used in an emergency. There should be a separate key locker for duplicate apartment keys and the keys should be sealed and the number of the seal recorded.

Edge guards (“jimmy bars”) are devices installed near a door’s lock to prevent the use of a crowbar to “jimmy” the door open or the use of a credit card to pick the lock. If edge guards are not installed properly, they may aid in a break-in since they can create a fulcrum or seesaw effect.

There are various components to the door system: the door, locks, hinges, and frames. A number of factors can make the system lose its integrity. The exterior doors may not be made of solid core wood or metal. The locks or hinges may have been improperly installed. The frames may not be well-secured. Most importantly, roof doors should be secured from within and equipped with exit alarms.

Some buildings – especially older attached ones – may have a crawl space above the top-floor ceiling and below the roof. In some situations, the space can connect apartment units. If your building has such space, follow fire regulations and secure it.

If a CCTV system is utilized, it should be monitored and have adequate signage identifying it. You may want to connect it to a video recorder. Do not use a “dummy” camera. On rare occasions when one is employed, it should only be as a decoy in conjunction with a functioning concealed CCTV camera.

A laundry room is one of the vulnerable locations within a building. Laundry room house rules should be developed and enforced. Some may require posting the operating hours of the laundry room. Some laundry rooms may be equipped with panic buttons to alert others, including doormen, of a problem; some may be equipped with a CCTV. In all cases, laundry rooms should have their windows and vents secured and be properly illuminated.

Proper illumination in a residential environment is a must. Public access areas, elevators, entrances, stairwells, and laundry rooms are a few areas that need proper lighting. High-intensity lighting on the outside can serve to frighten off would-be criminals.

Windows are the most common points of entry for criminals. Basement and fire escape windows are among the most dangerous spots. Air conditioners provide easy access for criminals. To prevent an air conditioner unit from being pushed in or pulled out, secure the unit to the window sleeve. Windows located within 12 feet from the ground should be considered potentially accessible and extra precautions should be taken, such as adding lights and alarms.

Safety gates or grills provide the best defense. Regardless of which type is used, you should make sure that it allows for emergency exiting and that the fire department has approved its use. In installing such devices, make sure that the screws are extra-long and strong enough to firmly anchor the gate to the interior wall stud or the window frame. Again, the safety latch must allow for emergencies and it should be approved.

Creative burglars can access some terraces. Secure the door from the terrace, the same way you would your front door. This is more important if the terrace is within 12 feet of the ground or is accessible from the roof.

Boards of cooperative or condominium apartment buildings will be well-served if they take proactive measures to address potential risks to residents. A complex will never be as secure as it should be unless every resident is alerted to and becomes involved with the prevention program.

Leslie N. A. Cole Sr., CPP, CST, is a liability consultant and the principal of the Union, N.J.-based Leslie Cole Associates.

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