I often receive calls and emails from business owners asking for a quote on the cost of random security patrols or “spot checks” as they are often referred to. In essence, what they are requesting is for a security officer to make several short appearances on their property during the night to deter and prevent various crimes that they may be experiencing. Companies who offer this service sell it to their clients as an effective way of preventing crime at their business while sharing the cost between multiple other properties in the area. Sounds great right?! Well, It depends….What are your exact needs, expectations and how much is an acceptable loss for your business?

When these businesses call me, they typically have the same thing in common…they are almost always looking to replace their security company that is currently providing this service. When I inquire as to why they are trying to replace their current security company, most try to answer graciously without bad-mouthing the other company but all have the same complaint; They are still having the same problems that they had before. They feel that the security company must not be doing their job correctly. They don’t feel that they have gotten the expected value for their money. And I completely understand their frustration. I mean, after all, someone told them that they would keep their property safe and accepted their money but then nothing changed!

I then go on to ask why they are needing security at night. The answers vary but 99% of the time the problems are property-related concerns such as theft and vandalism or in certain areas of town it may be homeless people loitering on property during the night. All are valid concerns for a business owner. Thefts and vandalism can result in anything from minor cost annoyances to completely devastating a business to a point of no return. Random security patrols would help stop these kind of problems, right? The answer is a resounding “NO!”.

People, much smarter than I am, have been studying police tactics and the effectiveness of crime-fighting measures for decades. Everyone is always searching for the latest and greatest strategy for targeting trouble areas and combating crime in those areas. Policing trends come and they go and then they repeat but with different names for the same methods. Since the 1970s there has been study after study after study on the effectiveness of police departments using random patrols or “saturation” details to combat crime in particular areas. The thought is that if there is a lot of crime in one area then you “saturate” that area with a large visible police presence. The desired result is that the would-be-criminals then think there must be police everywhere and that they will surely get caught if they try to commit a crime. But over and over again, these studies have revealed that this method has little to no effect on crime rates. To the contrary, there have even been studies where there were increases in reported crimes during those test periods. If it hasn’t been effective for police departments saturating small areas with large numbers of police officers driving marked police cars, it isn’t going to work for a lone security officer driving between multiple properties.

Why? Why doesn’t it work? Everyone who has ever read the first chapter of a security book will tell you that there are 3 requirements for an effective security approach using security officers- Deterrence, Detection and Response.

Deterrence is what we all want; the would-be-criminal saw something they didn’t like about their intended target and thought it best not to even try to commit a crime there. Security Officers are an excellent deterrent; most people don’t want to be seen committing a crime……but the officer has to be SEEN! Night patrols or “spot checks” typically consist of about 3-4 stops at the property each night where the officer drives around the property (he/she may or may not check business doors to make sure they are secure) and then leaves the property after several short minutes. Thus, the typical business is looking at about an average of 30-40 minutes of officer presence on their property per night. For a business that closes at 5:00pm and opens at 8:00am, that’s over 14 hours a night where there is nobody guarding the property. To achieve deterrence, a would-be-criminal would have to show up during one of those very brief moments to know that there was an officer there. But even then, the would-be-criminal will soon see the officer leave and realize that this is a shared patrol and then very quickly learn that they have hours before the officer returns.

What about Detection? The story is the same. Someone has to see a crime being committed in order to stop it or see and recognize suspicious activity before they can prevent a crime that is about to occur. The odds of an officer arriving during just the right 10-minute period out of a 15-hour span in order to catch a crime in progress or to recognize one in the making are very unlikely. Also, because these officers are assigned to patrol multiple properties, they have no real commitment to any one property. Because of this, it is easy for them to develop a comfortable routine at each property and miss things or intentionally overlook things that should have been detected and addressed so that they can move on to the next place on the list.

Response. At this point, I think its pretty obvious where I am going with this. The officer can’t take action to stop a crime if they aren’t there and don’t see it happening. Again, it hasn’t worked for the most advanced police departments and doesn’t work in private security. Criminals simply don’t know that there is an officer patrolling because they aren’t there at the same time or they just wait until the officer comes and goes and then do what they planned to do.

So, my questions are simple. Which element or elements of an effective security plan are you trying to purchase with your money? Deterrence? Detection and an appropriate Response? Hopefully the answer is “all of the above” because if it isn’t then you have an incomplete security plan and the next question to answer is “how much loss is an acceptable loss to your business and how much are you willing to pay for ineffective security solutions?”

Here’s the bottom line and unfortunately where I often lose customers…..the solution to the problem costs money. This is often seen as an attempt to upsell but it’s just the cold, hard reality; protecting your investments costs money.  There’s no way around it. If you are going to put forth the money to hire a security company to protect something important to you, then stop looking at bottom dollar with high expectations and instead invest the extra money to have an officer that is stationed and solely committed to your property and yours alone. Trust me, if crime is a real threat for your business, it WILL save you money in the end.