No Guarantee In Security

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The Best Deterrence Measures For RV And Boat Storage

Placing too much faith in a property’s security features is a dangerous, foolhardy practice. In August 2015, Flagler County, Fla., self-storage owners were reminded in the worst way that security is just a word. It was after midnight, and a series of RV and self-storage units were targeted in an organized fashion. In a single night, under the cover of a storm, more than $20,000 worth of property was stolen from more than a dozen RVs and units at three separate storage facilities.

Did the security features help lead to the apprehension of the criminals? More importantly, what could have deterred the crime in the first place? Here is an in-depth look at a genuine self-storage burglary, a cautionary tale cliff noted with best practices on protecting luxury items such as RVs and boats.

“The problem with security is there’s no such thing,” says Richard Marmor, legal and legislative chair for the Arizona Self-Storage Association. This Phoenix attorney believes no self-storage owner should sell a state of mind. On security, Marmor adds, “No matter what, it can be violated. Expect it to be violated.”

Marmor is uncomfortably familiar with self-storage break-ins. Years ago, Marmor owned a self-storage property that was relentlessly targeted by local gang members. Weeks of nightly burglaries passed before he was able to find a resolution. Most owners do not have the luxury of time. Sometimes one break-in is enough to jeopardize the tenant loyalty developed for a property. Finding ways to prevent theft is integral for large targets such as boats and RVs.

Lock and key alone is not enough to protect property and prevent crime. In the case of the Flagler County crimes, the hasps and locks at each location were cut clean off of the RVs and self-storage units. And there were no miraculous forensic breadcrumbs to lead to swift resolution; a lack of physical evidence was the result of severe weather conditions that flooded the crime scenes.

Lights, Cameras, Inaction!
This meant the sheriff’s department had to rely mostly on camera footage, reported initially by Matt Bruce of The Daytona Beach News Journal. Upon further review, one facility had no cameras at all, which is wholly advised against when storing RVs and boats.

“Properly designed systems prevent this,” says Jon Loftin of PTI Security. The importance of camera quality and placement doubles for boats and RVs. “RV parking, where you see it in the open, is much more difficult to secure.” Experts agree the bare minimum on-site camera angles should be image in, image out to properly identify vehicles and drivers leaving and entering the property.

The sheriff’s department later moved onto the camera footage from the other two sites. There were multiple attempts to computerize surveillance footage in order to identify the burglars, but the quality of the footage and camera angles were not enough to lead to an apprehension. A number of three-dimensional image consultants were also brought in to evaluate the footage. The lack of quality surveillance footage failed investigators.

“Lighting and cameras are your best bet,” says Travis Morrow, who has more than 10 years of industry experience. Morrow’s expertise is indoor climate-controlled storage, including boats and RVs. “Camera coverage is more important when it comes to RVs and boats than with regular self-storage units. RVs are a larger target.”

RVs and boats create pockets where criminals will feel comfortable hiding from cameras and prying eyes. It increases the likelihood of an attempted burglary, so the placement of a camera/floodlight is almost more important than the quality of the camera.

“Have the most well-lit parking area as possible, including fences and gates,” says Morrow, adamant about the importance of a bright storage lot. Flood lights positioned in different columns and rows, all tested with an employee on camera, can decrease the likelihood of a break-in or stolen vehicle. Print out camera footage to ensure the image capture is smooth enough for proper identification.

How successful has Morrow been at protecting his property? His property hasn’t had a single burglary in more than a decade. Morrow’s claimed best practice of all: “Don’t give people dark corners to hide.”

Codes And Alarms
Cameras aside, why didn’t any of the access codes deter the criminals at the three different sites? At one of the sites, according to the police report, “Every tenant shared the same security access code.” Whether it was customer convenience or poor site management, facilities should never use a blanketed access code.

“Having an individual alarm helps tremendously,” says Loftin. Relying on alarms is still difficult because it’s up to the RV or boat owner to decide if they want a system for their property. The alternative, investing in alarm systems and high quality camera systems, can be costly.

Morrow tells his employees, “We are not Fort Knox. You can invest in ‘security’ so it’s over the top, but you can settle for slightly modern technology just as well. It’s the difference between VHS and DVR. Make sure you have a network that can back up into a cloud database.”

Preventing Liability
Another best practice has little to do with property and a lot to do with liability protection. “People on both sides picture vastly different things,” says Marmor in regards to labeling anything as security. “That’s why we tend to avoid the subject, because there’s no such thing.”

There are instances when a victimized tenant may use lease verbiage as a weapon in a lawsuit. Selling a tenant on the comfort of security may backfire if a burglary takes place, but there are minor adjustments that can be made to the lease agreement. Relabel some of these “security precautions” as “deterrence measures”.

For example, Marmor recommends exchanging phrases such as “security cameras” for “closed-circuit cameras” and “security alarms” for “door alarms”. It is also highly recommended when referencing closed-circuit cameras to add the phrase: “Any device may be unmonitored or inoperable from time to time”. This is helpful if someone steals an RV off a lot at 3 a.m. when no one is working at the office.

Morrow recommends that all tenants have their own proof of insurance at the time of the lease sign. The claim will go to the tenant so long as the lease explicitly states that liability belongs to the owner of the goods: up to and including the RV or boat. Now both the lot and the lease are better protected in the future.

Wrap Up Crime
How did Marmor end up resolving his criminal problem? After weeks of replacing locks and involving authorities to no avail, Marmor’s last-ditch effort was to forego the wide-range of liabilities involved and rent a guard dog. He posted “Beware of Dog” signs throughout the inside and outside of the property. Surprisingly, it wasn’t enough to stop the burglaries. That was until one night.

“Along one wall, there was blood leading up to the fence. You could tell the dog got them. Then there was blood on the fence and pieces of clothes snagged on the barbed wire where the person was forced to jump back over,” says Marmor. “The break-ins fell off very rapidly after that.”

What about the Flagler County burglaries? The case is now an inactive, unsolved crime without a single lead to pursue. Dozens of tenants lost time and possessions they can never get back. Three properties hold a black mark on their record for the near future. Moreover, a handful of burglars walked away scot-free.

Asking if these burglaries were avoidable is fruitless. It is at the same time undeniable that deterrence measures were missing at each of the three sites. It leaves the only question worth asking: Why make it any easier on the people who decide to take what is rightfully yours? Instead, incorporate the proper deterrence measures and keep reading about industry changes to ensure the property stays current on best practices.

If you have any knowledge of the Flagler County storage burglaries discussed in this article, please contact the Flagler County police department.

Khris Golder is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona.

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