How secure is your business?

The scoundrels are everywhere.

In 1991, Vancouver endured some 14,000 break-and-enters. In 1995, it was 18,000 incidents. In 1996, it was 20,589 reported B&Es. (Along with 10,249 auto thefts and 2,765 robberies… but who’s counting?)

In terms of property crime, Vancouver is Canada’s top city. Great.

Do the math: almost 60 break-ins a day with the average hit removing $8,000 worth of goods.

But that’s on average. Some hits see hundreds of thousands of dollars of material or irreplaceable information walking out the door, never to be seen again. (Do you know where your computer is tonight?) The impact can be enough to cripple or even kill a company. According to the Vancouver Board of Trade, property crime is a business worth $300 million or more a year.

It’s also relatively risk-free: fewer than 10 per cent of all B&Es are solved. The police do their best but they’re up against a tide. Vancouver is a port city (read: drug trade) with weak pawnbroker laws (read: easy to fence). Add the inability (or unwillingness) of other provincial jurisdictions to come fetch their own bad guys when they get spotted in B.C., toss in Lotusland’s balmy climate (bad guys get chilly, too) and Vancouver becomes a super, natural haven for property crime. Go west, young malefactor.

Yes, there’s a tide of property crime. But you don’t have to get washed away.*

Delaying the bad guys

“The problem is there’s not enough thieves out there,” muses Thomas Roney. “If there were enough thieves, things would be done a lot quicker. But there’s only so much the thieves can do in one night.”

Roney is the owner of full-service firm Vytaltek Security Services Inc. He’s also a licensed security consultant, as compared to an alarm seller. He’s careful to make the distinction. If only others would do the same.

The first problem: when it comes to security, most people don’t realize just how big the problem is — until they get hit. Shock and amazement. As Roney puts it, people are “reactive.” They get excited, rush out, get sold a bunch of alarms, iron bars, locks and whatnot. Then they calm down. And then they get hit again. So they add more ironmongery. And it happens again.

The second problem: too many companies out there promoting themselves as “security” firms when, in fact, they simply sell certain products. To properly protect a business, Roney says you can’t think piecemeal. You must look at the entire picture.

“You have to look at it with the eyes of a thief. Your business has to look tough.”

Tough as in, don’t waste your time, boyo. Go find easier pickings.

Think of security as having a bouncer positioned outside a wildly popular nightclub. If the bouncer is small and weedy-looking, someone will invariably try to “take him on.” But if that bouncer looks like a bruiser, most steer clear.

Security is the sum of a number of parts. It’s an integrated system of layered defences. Everything from employee attitudes and reference vetting, to roving security patrols and alarms, to “target hardening” — making it so difficult or time-consuming to swipe things that the bad guys blink and move on, Roney says.

The key point: delaying the bad guys.

The best defence

When dealing with bad guys, time is literally your money.

Bad guys don’t like to hang around a place. Get in, get out; most B&Es are down and done in two minutes.

Big revelation: thieves don’t like to be seen. They like the darkness and unobserved spots. The seldom-used door on the seldom-trod back alley, the window half-hidden by shrubs; any place where they can scope out the business’s access points without being spotted and challenged.

Bad guys also like to feel secure.

Most residential break-ins occur in the afternoon when most people are at work. Commercial thieves are night workers. The optimum snitching hours: 11:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. when even the most dedicated workaholic has finally wobbled home and the streets have quieted… but not to the point where a cruising van would be conspicuous in its solitude.

As Roney and other security experts stress, there is no ultimate defence. Given enough resources, determination and time, a thief can defeat any physical defence.

Sure, that battleship-plate door, inch-thick iron bar set and Fort Knox lock would make Superman whimper, but a fat lot of good it will do if, say, the bad guys simply break into the weakly defended place next door and come in through the adjoining drywall or through the roof. (It happens.) Sometimes they’ll smash a vehicle right through the front door.

Once a place gets hit, and if the pickings are good, the chances are excellent that the bad guys will return to test the new defences. However, if they couldn’t get in the first time, they likely won’t come back.

Think like a thief

Roney believes too many companies go the cheap route and buy security according to price. They make a budget, hire a locksmith, tell him what they want… and then pay the price later when the place gets broken into. Rather than saving money, they’re now spend-ing more to replace the broken glass and missing items and fuss with the insurance.

Much better to go the “middle-range” route. Call in that locksmith or security expert and ask them what you need. While costs vary depending upon the size and layout of the place, a 1,000-square-foot shop can be protected for about $2,500 plus monitoring costs. As Roney notes, when amortized over five years, it’s not much to pay for peace of mind.

First priority: strong, top-quality locks, deadbolts and doors. As the first line of defence, don’t skimp here. According to Roney, there’s far too many “contract” grade hardware out there. Cheap quality, cheap materials and easy to defeat. He also feels people put too much reliance on alarms and electronics while cheaping out on the hardware.

Yes, Roney believes alarms are vital: “If you have a business and you don’t have an alarm, you’re nuts.” However, he also points out that by the time the alarm goes off, the break-in has already occurred.

Most security systems take about 90 seconds to trigger the alarm and send for human help. Even if that help is close at hand, add another 30 seconds of thieving time. Bad guys don’t scare easily. Most of them are inured to alarms. As one security expert put it: “Thieves have accepted alarms as part of their business.”

A shrieking alarm will cut the thief’s visiting time. Fine, but much better if you can either fend off the crooks at the gate or, if they do get inside, frustrate them for those vital few minutes before help arrives.

To do that, give your place a cold-eyed once-over. Look for the weak points and weld them shut. Anticipate and correct the problems. Says Roney: “The best thing a businessperson can do is look at their premises like a thief.”*

Slowing down the speeding thief may be your best defence

Security comes in two forms: active and passive.

Active security is exactly that. Security patrols, cameras, discreet yet gimlet-eyed floorwalkers and a proactive approach.

Passive security is the inert physical defences. Locks, bars, alarms, armoured computer enclosures and doors, unbreakable polycarbonate sheets or films attached or applied to display windows — it’s all about making the place look tough.

Beware of geeks bearing trash

If you own a small business, especially if it’s in an unsecured business park or industrial area, sooner or later one of them will show up in your reception area.

A little bit scruffy perhaps, but darned friendly and eager to flog what Tony Janzen of AnchorSmart calls “weird stuff” — big plush toy animals, strange velvet paintings, cheap electronic gewgaws, pointless and cheap crockery (a ceramic egg poacher, anyone?) or whatever else is pulled out of that ubiquitous bottomless gym bag. He might have a partner, a seemingly bored guy idly or impatiently looking around while the first guy grins and blathers. You might or might not buy something and send him on his way. A few minutes later, you’ve forgotten him.

But he hasn’t forgotten you.

A week or two later, he’ll be back again, only this time it’s in the dead of night. Rather than a gym bag, he’ll have a van and a couple of buddies. Rather than knock, they break open the door and to hell with the alarm. If it’s a non-monitored system, a quick hammer smash to the (previously noted) keypad will probably keep it quiet. If it doesn’t, it’s simply not much of a problem.

Bad guys work fast.

A few minutes later, they’re gone, a set of tail lights vanishing in the gloom. With them, all of your computers and anything else that catches — or rather, had earlier caught — their eye.

Congratulations. You’ve just become another statistic.

An ounce of crime prevention

Organized crime is exactly that. Organized. These guys know what people want and what sells. Here in Vancouver, police estimate the bulk of the property crime is the doing of fewer than 50 hardcore bad guys. Underneath them is a layer of perhaps 300 thieves.

Blame a lot of it on the drug trade. Janzen does. Desperate to find the money for their next fix, male addicts target quick-sell

“Prostitution isn’t as easy for guys,” says Janzen. “Computer theft is the next best thing.”

If professional thieves are involved, the computers will likely be gutted for their — and almost untraceable — memory and processor chips and other components. Or they’ll be “hacked” open, their passwords neutralized.

In some cases, the machines will be specifically targeted, hard-drives drained of information (can you say, industrial espionage?) and the machines either junked or shipped off to points unknown. Just because your computer isn’t quite cutting-edge, it doesn’t mean it won’t get shipped out and sold in a developing country.

If stolen by amateurs, the machines will be fenced whole or passed on for a “no questions asked” sale either through small ads in the newspapers, flea markets or right on the street. Unfortunately, many an honest citizen is happy to pick up a “bargain” for cheap. Again, no questions asked.

One defence: ensuring easy pickings are literally impossible to pick up — or remove.

AnchorSmart makes lockable computer enclosures. Bolted to the floor or clinging limpet-like to a desktop with 10 tonnes of adhesive strength, Janzen says these patented steel shells aren’t going anywhere. Which is the whole idea. Janzen says “hundreds” have been installed in the Lower Mainland. He also says that of the 18 clients who got hit afterwards, not one lost their computers.

The units cost $169 and up. The steel is also backed up with paper — a $100,000 (maximum) insurance policy with zero deductible. If the machines do somehow get winkled out from the steel shells, this secondary policy covers the loss with not a peep made to the firm’s regular insurance company. Translation: your premiums won’t go up. (Assuming you still have a regular insurance company, that is. Run a couple of B&E claims and most insurers won’t touch you.)

Cable locks are another alternative. Of course, you get what you pay for.

Cheaper cables are exactly that: useful against impulse theft where the big plan is to grab the machine and run like a high-stepping fool. But good luck if the thief has the standard tool of the trade: an industrial-strength pair of bolt-cutters.

Not all cables are created equal.

As owner of ComputerLock Security Devices and developer of the Cyberlock, Mike Poirier believes in layered security: “The more, the merrier.” His product: five feet of specially toughened yet flexible cable that he says will “roll” with (and laugh at) any bolt-cutter’s bite. The lock is enclosed in a seamless, sledgehammer-proof, laser-cut steel box (“a tidy little thing”), the whole affair attached to the computer via a 150,000-psi (minimum) tensile-strength serial-port fitting.

Again, the idea is to frustrate the stopwatch. Instead of cleaning out a place in minutes, Poirier says lock-down devices force the thieves “to fight tooth and nail” to remove each piece of equipment.

The $99 Cyberlock kit also contains an optional set of “security fasteners” and a special screwdriver bit. The idea: replace the standard casing screws and thus prevent a thief (or employee) from “zipping open” a computer. Stealing ultra-new and ultra-fast computer chips and replacing them with old, obsolete and very slow stuff isn’t uncommon. Chances are the office is running old software anyhow and the speedy chips won’t be missed for a while. (“Hey boss, is it okay if I work late tonight?”)

Another layer: permanently marking the computer case with your company’s name or your driver’s licence number. (FYI, municipal police can’t easily access a federal government-issued Social Insurance Number.) With your corporate brand on their steel hides, the machines become impossible to sell or pawn — but only to a degree.

When buying a computer, few people check under the hood. If the theft ring guts the machine and/or simply replaces the case, who’s the wiser? Putting your private mark on something “might make you feel good,” says Janzen, but “the thief really doesn’t care.”

Put the stolen machine together with a new case and a crooked techie, and the job is done. Even if a buyer ever did open up the box, how can you tell if the processor and other valuable components are hot?

If they’ve been stained with crime, that’s how.

Let there be light

Imagine a computer which screams if touched and fouls itself if opened.

Developed in the U.K. and now being sold in kit form here, the Barracuda Security Device does exactly that. If the computer is illegally moved, the password-protected internal card detects the motion and lets out a 120-decibel shriek. If that machine gets zipped open, the change in ambient light triggers a small dye capsule that instantly hits the valuable innards with a harmless but indelible red stain. (Better to dye before dishonour.) The idea: mark the stolen bits as exactly that — stolen — and mess up the potential resale value.

Then again, why not go all the way?

Also developed in the U.K. and recently introduced to the Lower Mainland, the SmartWater system warns would-be crooks that, should they break into the place, they’ll be literally marked as the thieves, no question about it.

Set up to protect access points and strategic areas, the system links the alarm network with pressurized canisters of non-hazardous, ultraviolet-light-sensitive, water-based solution laced with literally millions of microscopic particles. SmartWater Canada Ltd. regional manager Dave Atchison calls it “liquid DNA” — the exact formulation of the particles is registered and unique to each individual client.

Activated by a motion sensor or alarm, the system blasts out a mist of tattletale solution impossible to avoid. Once it dries, it’s impossible to see and impossible to remove; it’ll be with you for months. Forget the quick shower and rinse; the stuff has been used to mark sails on round-the-world racing yachts. Atchison says it can put an invisible owner’s mark on everything from computers to bulldozers.

When hit with a UV lamp, Smart-Water glows. Scraped off, analyzed and matched to the police database, it instantly links the criminal to the crime area… gotcha! Good luck trying to explain it away. In the U.K., Atchison says the system (coupled with extensive media play warning bad guys what they’re now facing) has cut B&Es dramatically.

Cost of the system: about $2,000 per canister plus a small yearly cost to maintain the forensic database. (The database is now maintained by Scotland Yard. Although Atchison says the turnaround time for analysis is very fast, it’s hoped that once the Canadian police forces get onboard, the cross-linked databases will be maintained regionally here in Canada.)

Since the system was introduced to Canada in June of this year, Atchison has been talking to every major police and law enforcement agency in the country. In September, the system was presented to and favourably received by a group of RCMP forensic identification officers. Atchison has also been talking to city hall here in Vancouver. (SmartWater has already been endorsed by the South African police.)

Call it spreading the word. Or, rather, the wet. Says Atchison: “We are in the position to talk to anyone with a problem to see what we can do to help.”*

Security patrols enlist thicket of eyes

Hiring someone to “walk your beat” is a growing business.

According to Justice Institute of B.C. statistics, in North America security guards outnumber police officers 2.5 to one. The ratio is growing. Here in B.C. as of early August, 3,800 security guards were certified by the Justice Institute for the provincial government. In the U.S., businesses actually employ private police who have police authority. They don’t answer to the city; they answer to their employer.

Although security guards in gritty downtown areas are “in a tough position,” Michael Jagger believes no security firm should be seen as a replacement for a trained and professional police force. Aside from the legal and liability problems, going in looking and acting like Darth Vader’s valet is controversial at best, confrontational at worst.

Jagger owns and runs Provident Security and Event Management. Unlike many other security firms, Provident eschews the military, in-your-face look. It also believes in enlisting the locals, from shopkeeper to street person, to share information and reinforce this thicket of eyes.

The idea: hire only university students dressed in non-threatening uniforms (summer wear: khaki pants and golf shirts), train them thoroughly, hire them part-time (no frustrated police wannabes), put in foot, bicycle and mobile patrols, and have them thoroughly familiarize themselves with the area and the locals. All of the locals.

“The scariest-looking [street] people are often the most harmless,” says Jagger. Yes, they do make shoppers nervous but he says most can easily be handled with the right combination of deftness, style and compassion.

Which is one of the tenets behind Provident: use the resources at hand to boost a neighbourhood’s latent “witness potential.” In other words, put more eyes on the street. Jagger says it’s not unknown for street people to alert the patrols about suspicious strangers in the area.

Provident has more than 200 clients, the bulk of them in two main patrol areas: Kerrisdale and South Granville between 10th and 16th streets.

Although Jagger says it’s hard to compute individual costs, depending upon the number of clients in a patrol area, the monthly tag is between $35 and $50 a merchant. In South Granville, the individual merchants pay for the service. In Kerrisdale, the Provident patrols are funded by the Kerrisdale Business Association.

Ah yes, Kerrisdale at night. Quiet, dark, with too many “little nooks” and too few roosts for night owls, the place is a natural for lurking bad guys. Says Jagger: “Anyone walking in Kerrisdale after 12:30 [a.m.] is suspicious because nobody walks in Kerrisdale after 12:30. They all drive.”*

Look at the cute little baby — he’s wearing a Rolex

Some shoplifters are relatively easy to spot. Amateurs, their eyes shift as they mosey about, dawdling for excessive amounts of time in one area, seemingly more interested in the walls (any security cameras?) and other shoppers (any eyes on me?) than they are in the merchandise.

But don’t be fooled. They’re very much interested in what’s on your shelves and racks. If not now, later; they’re scoping out the place for future reference.

Aside from acting twitchy and vague, novice shoplifters often don’t look quite right. They might carry rather used-looking shopping bags from other stores or be dressed inappropriately for the season. Who wears a long, floppy coat in the middle of summer? (All the better to conceal, my dear.)

Professional shoplifters are something else. They know exactly what they want.

Bad enough if they work alone, worse if they work as a team. Once in position, one of them will distract the owner or clerk while the others slither through the aisles, slipping goods into concealed pockets, specially tricked-up baby carriages (complete with baby) or whatever can pass as normal.

Instead of looking scruffy, professional thieves fit the locale. They look and act well. Disguised in thousand-dollar suits (clothes do make the malefactor), cell phones in hand, more often female than male, they hit like Armani-clad locusts.

Solution: develop bug repellent.

Thieves don’t like to be noticed and noted. By greeting each customer as he or she enters and establishing solid eye contact, you show them you’re aware of their presence. Another tip: to foil snatch and runs, keep small, expensive items in a secure, visible area away from the door.

If someone looks “wrong” or if he or she is known as bad news, tell them to leave. What you do in your shop or place of business is your business. Legally, it’s private property. If he or she refuses, get help or call the police.*

Published October 28, 1997 · Business In Vancouver · Written by David Leidl

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