Unusual crime-fighting tips for property owners

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Crime Stoppers not just about reporting criminals

Like it or not, crime – particularly property crime – is an issue everyone in Cayman has to pay more attention to these days.

Overall crimes increased by about 10 per cent between 2008 and 2009 and early trends for this year showed that continuing, especially in the areas of property or acquisitive crime.

In particular, recent police statistics show crime has risen along the West Bay Road corridor, where many tourist hotels and condo properties are located on Grand Cayman. 

Though the overall number of crimes in the West Bay Road/Seven Mile Beach area has remained almost the same within the past year, there has been a marked increase in the number of robberies there.

There were six robberies reported each year along West Bay Road for 2008 and 2009. In the first five months in 2009, there was just one robbery reported in the West Bay Road area.

Between January and May of this year, four robberies have occurred. According to police, the main trouble spot in the area since 2008 has been Helen Drive – across the street from Captain’s Bakery and the St. Matthew’s University residence hall. There were nine criminal offences reported there, including five robberies.

The facts are the facts. But they should not be tainted by fear, says Royal Cayman Islands Police Inspector Anthony White, who holds a PhD in criminal justice and who has spent the last two years advising homeowners and businesses on what they can do to reduce their chances of becoming victims of crime.

The key, White says, is to make properties less desirable to those looking to break in, steal, and rob.

“Before any criminal commits an act, they think,” White says. “There will always be an exception to the rule, but most people think before they act.

“It’s deterring criminal behaviour,” White continues. “You’re not going to be able to stop criminal behaviour. If you implement some of this, your neighbour might feel what you’ve done.”
In other words, the would-be burglar might skip your house and go next door.

White says there are generally three factors most suspects consider before deciding to commit an offence like burglary or robbery; severity of punishment, certainty of getting caught and celerity – or the swiftness of punishment to be meted out.

The most important, says White, is the certainty aspect.

“Offenders are not too much caring about ‘how much time am I going to get in prison?’” White says. “If an offender… has a heightened fear of being caught right then and there, that serves more as a deterrent than the severity of the punishment or the swiftness of the punishment.”

There’s actually an acronym for the theory White espouses; it’s called CEPTED or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. It operates on an opportunity-based theory of crime and implements those theories into the design of the home, condo or business.

Inspector White says many cities around the globe have long-since adopted such designs, but in Cayman – at least in earlier days – little thought was given to designing to weed out crime.
“How can they build it with the idea that it would deter a criminal from making an attempt to victimise the property or someone?” is the general idea, White says.

Designing out crime doesn’t necessarily mean putting up large metal fences, making gated communities everywhere and installing surveillance cameras on every street corner. 

Often it’s simple, even obvious things property owners can do to make their areas less attractive to burglars without ruining the overall design or aesthetic of their place.

One of the keys is allowing for what White calls ‘natural surveillance’.

“This is when the offender comes on your property and it goes through their mind that ‘I’m going to be seen if I do this’,” he says. “You don’t pay for this; it’s just a perception that goes through their mind.”

“It’s simple; if someone enters a property and it’s just dark and the next property is light, which one is he going to go into?”

Placing windows where they overlook sidewalks, leaving window shades open and installing user-friendly landscaping designs are all part of the design plan.

Generally, high hedges surrounding a home or business are not a good idea, White says. These can give offenders something to hide behind while attempting to break in or a place to secret themselves before committing a robbery.

“You’re actually facilitating crime for an offender,” he says. “That’s a primary spot where offenders can lay in wait.”

In the case of two houses next door to one another, White says the burglar is more likely to choose the home with the taller hedges.

If you’ve grown attached to the shrubbery, White says you don’t necessarily have to cut it down to design out crime. But he says other measures need to be taken to counteract it, such as better lighting and installing surveillance cameras or ensuring that burglars or robbers don’t have ground floor access to rooms.

One example of a local business that really improved its crime design was the former Next Level night club – now called Jet.

Following a string of violent incidents at and outside the club, the previous management decided to cut down the bushes that blocked the view of its property from the neighbouring lot on West Bay Road. The club also installed better lighting around its entrance and in the parking lot at the back of the property.

“They re-did everything and their incidents of assaults and victimisations just dropped by two-thirds,” White says. “Crime there has just really dropped.”

There are the obvious concerns about junked vehicles, excess trash and broken windows of properties. White says these are quality-of-life issues that are known to attract criminals to an area.

“This is sending the wrong signal for offenders. You’re not caring for your property, why should they?” he asks.

What typically has not been given much thought, at least at some local properties, is the issue of access control, White says.

This means using signs, landscaping or even low fences to differentiate between what is public and what is private space. The idea is to make individuals who shouldn’t normally be on a property stand out more.

“If you have spaces defined for people to be in, you can see an offender faster,” White says. “Use structures to divert people to reception areas. Use low, thorny bushes. Eliminate design features that provide access to rooms or upper storeys.”

Also, don’t overdo it on the signs – whether they are for warning or advertising purposes.

“We’ve had front doors where the glass is just plastered with signs,” White says. “If you’re being robbed, who can see in?”