Creating an Illusion of Security

When evaluating the ever-increasing arsenal of electronic and physical security products at our disposal, it’s easy to lose sight of the primary purpose of these products. Images get sharper, installation gets simpler, and software adds a level of functionality that was unheard of a few short years ago.

In my consulting practice, I have yet to see a problem arise that can’t be solved using technology. Granted, high-tech components may not always be the best solution, but our toolbox is getting pretty full these days.

These tools seem to be designed with one purpose — to help us catch the bad guys. Perimeter detection can differentiate between animals and humans and let us know exactly when someone has crossed the line. Point-of-sale monitoring lets us pinpoint theft at a cash register. Crystal-clear, instantly searchable digital video gives us irrefutable visual evidence of any crimes. These are tremendous capabilities, and they provide job security for many of us, but let’s not lose sight of the main reason why most folks install electronic security in the first place: to deter crime.

Aim to Deter, Not Prosecute
In 1966, Ron Assaf noticed a shoplifter carrying a bottle of wine out the door of the supermarket in which he was working. This ultimately led to the creation of the ubiquitous anti-shoplifting tag and one of the world’s largest electronic security companies, Sensormatic (now owned by Tyco).

They were wonderfully successful and would allow a storeowner to catch shoplifters red-handed, but what isn’t as widely known is that there was quite a bit of early resistance to the tag idea. As the company worked to create smaller and less obtrusive tags, their retail customers told them a different story. Since it usually cost more to prosecute the shoplifter than the stolen merchandise was worth, they wanted bigger and bulkier tags to serve as deterrents. Many stores wound up purchasing bigger tags without installing the readers that would sound an alarm.

I’m not proposing we go back to the days when people installed dummy cameras everywhere. There are sound legal reasons for ensuring a camera housing has a working camera inside that are beyond the scope of this column. Instead, I propose we look at the deterrent value of the products we buy and install, with an eye on maintaining the illusion of security.

Security Need Not Be High Tech
Unitized camera packages, with the camera, lens and housing all in an aesthetically pleasing package, have taken the market by storm. But, when possible, don’t let them blend in too well with the décor. They need to be noticed to be effective, and a balance can be struck between form and function.

When selecting a camera that can see well in the dark, consider adding lighting where possible. Lights make people feel safer and more secure, and they help to show everyone the camera’s presence. On a similar note, don’t just place cameras where they will see the action; put them where the action will see the cameras as well.

Public-view monitors are also an excellent deterrent, yet you rarely see them outside of small retail stores or the entrances to larger stores. Showing people that there is camera coverage can be effective in a variety of public areas including schools, sports venues and office buildings. This is similar to putting security monitors at the reception area, a strategy that is often less effective because anyone walking in can see how the monitors are being ignored.

Consider adding other physical security elements to your system as well. Many retail stores add mirrors in key areas, knowing a patron who looks in the mirror can see the reflection of a camera. While that camera may not necessarily see the person in turn, it creates enough doubt to send a would-be thief to a competitor. Likewise, lighting, signage, fencing and other physical barriers draw attention to the entire security presence and dramatically increase the effectiveness of your system in deterring crime.

Signage Can Be Important Measure
I am working with officials at a large school district on a system design that amplifies this point. After careful evaluation and examination of their existing infrastructure, they felt a digital, IP-based video system was ideal. For all the right reasons, they have chosen the latest technology and are looking forward to the features, functionality and benefits this new technology brings.

But, when asked what single element will ensure the effectiveness of the system, there is no hesitation in their response — the signage. They want everyone to know there are cameras present, but their goal isn’t to catch the person who spray paints symbols on the side of its building. They want to talk them out of trying it in the first place.


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