Of the many good reasons for moving to a residential estate, the one most often cited is security. Residential estates are seen as safer places to live, and places where children and adults alike can walk and play in public open space. So security is extremely important.
Your association’s obligation to undertake security measures
Security is a major selling point of many residential estates, so the board has an obligation to make every effort to minimise crime.
The board’s legal obligations in the exercise of its management powers are to:
• comply with the governing documents
• conduct its activities diligently
• effectively carry out its fiduciary duty to the association and its members.
The community association may be liable for third-party criminal
acts in the case of:
• breach of duty to provide adequate security
• breach of contract
Both the community manager and the board should understand how to properly discharge their responsibilities under the standards of reasonableness and the duty of care. The manager and the board also need to analyse the scope of their overall authority and legal obligation, as laid out in the governing documents.
Impact of crime on the community
Community associations have a responsibility to protect the investments of the community members. A person’s home or unit is typically his or her largest physical investment, thus protecting property value should be a main concern of any association. In addition, perceptions of personal safety influence current residents’ decisions regarding relocation, and also rank high in prospective buyers’ relocation choices. Sometimes it is necessary for the individual to relinquish certain freedoms for macro-level protections, which could impact on quality of life. Assuming that a community is faced with real – as opposed to perceived – crime, the association can begin to address the impact of that crime by asking several fundamental questions:
• Has crime increased resident instability?
• Has crime affected property values?
• Has crime affected the quality of life within the community?
When crime in a community association is real and increases in frequency, a board of directors will often take a look at its own efforts and response and determine if additional action is necessary. A community’s response to crime can be assessed in several steps. To identify and measure a community’s response to crime, four basic questions may be asked:
• What is the community doing to prevent crime?
• How does perceived crime influence the community’s crime-prevention efforts?
• Is the crime response successful?
• What are the side effects of the community’s crime prevention activities?
Developers often construct community associations with a wide variety of amenities that are designed to entice potential owners to invest in their associations. Gated communities are a perfect example. Many developers recognise that gated communities can command higher home prices and sell units faster than non-gated communities. A lower-quality gate system may operate reasonably well in the community’s initial stages of development but, at some point, the developer must decide if and how to increase security.
Many estates outsource the security function to dedicated security services. This has many advantages, but also some constraints, and the role a contract security firm plays when providing security at a community association is often misunderstood.
• Legally, there are many limitations to what actions a security officer can take – whether armed or unarmed. The legal powers of a security officer are usually limited to those of a private citizen – not those of a police officer.
• At the heart of a security service’s scope is the phrase ‘observe and report’ – make proper observation of, and accurately and speedily report, any criminal activity.
• Ultimately, the best goal of any security system is to deter criminal activity. This is best achieved by striking a balance between high visibility and customer service.
• A successful security solution within a community is built upon clear, two-way communication. Expectations are best managed when the security team knows exactly what the community expects, and when the community knows what the security team can legally deliver.
• Part of the defined objectives should clearly address what expectations there are for any ‘first responder’ duties. If life safety is part of the responsibility, the initial and ongoing training should have been planned into the contract and scheduled.
The selection of the security provider involves evaluating a number of factors. Associations that make the decision solely on price often find themselves dissatisfied with the service and end up moving from company to company. So it is important that the board takes into account what is expected, and what can be delivered.
Elements of the security system
Community security is not a one-size-fits-all venture. What may work for high-density clusters may not necessarily meet the needs of residents in a large-scale, planned community, but most will include the same elements.
Video surveillance systems usually consist of CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras, cabling, recording devices and monitoring devices. These are most commonly used at the entry and exit gates – usually with number plate recognition – and at the perimeter fencing. When designing a surveillance system, a few questions need to be addressed.
• What is the camera going to watch?
• When is the camera going to be used?
• How are the cameras going to be connected?
• How much ambient light is available?
• Where is the camera output going to go?
• Does the camera need to have PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) control?
• How are the surveillance cameras recorded?
Alarm systems can be broken down into two categories – perimeter and residential.
• Perimeter detection system allows the perimeter of the community to be electronically monitored from a centralised location. As an intruder crosses the perimeter line, an alarm is activated. The alarm notifies the security guards or police of the location of the breech so that they can dispatch the roving patrol to investigate.
• Even in secure estates, all residents should be encouraged to have security systems for their homes. With a young community it is easier for the association to establish a security system requirement policy.
Access control systems include a device, reader, controller and security barrier. The access control device is read by a reader. The reader sends the device number to a controller. The controller makes a decision whether to allow access and sends a signal to the gate or door for it to open. These may be stand-alone for each entry, or can be integrated to run from a single database.
Vehicle access control systems fall into four categories: attended, automated (unattended), open access, or some combination of these three. The type of system that is appropriate for your community depends on what you would like to accomplish. The type of access control device is chosen based on who is going to use the device and the type of access point that the community wants to control. There will usually be different lanes for residents and visitors, with different systems, usually automated for residents and attended for visitors.
Pedestrian access control can be by the use of keys, keypads, access cards, photo ID.
Checklist: Tips on securing your community
• Analyse your community as a whole – include both the surrounding communities and the community association.
• Conduct an annual safety survey.
• Call a security meeting with the members.
• Point out effective interior security measures, in meetings and in newsletter articles.
• Conduct daily or weekly tours of the property, both on foot and by car.
• Check street lighting nightly.
• Communicate with neighbouring properties.
• Review your use of exterior lighting.
• Control access into the community association, by limiting the number of entrance areas, or via gates.
• Use effective landscaping and maintenance measures.
• Establish a neighbourhood watch programme, including an out-of-town watch programme and regular member recognition for their participation.