Partnering with Police: Does It Make Sense for Security Measures?

People are returning to cities, and, as the Harvard Business Review observes, businesses are following them.

For small businesses, the time to get established is before rents begin to reflect a particular urban location as desirable. But the low rents in “up and coming” areas can come with a downside: high crime rates.

Some business owners have started partnering with police and 24/7 video surveillance to protect themselves.

Consider This Case Study

A Detroit couple returned to their home city after 12 years away to open a clothing boutique in Midtown, a once-blighted area transformed into a small business haven, thanks in large part to a nonprofit development group. But, as The New York Times reports, equally important was a partnership with the Wayne State University Police Department.

Originally, a strictly college campus force (albeit with full police powers), the Wayne State department expanded its beat in 2009 to four square miles that included both the campus and all of Midtown as a way to ensure the safety of students living in the area. Moreover, Wayne State instituted several proactive crime reduction measures.

Most notably, it installed one of the most extensive surveillance systems in Michigan comprising 850 cameras. And it partnered with local businesses, helping to remove abandoned junk and escorting people leaving work late at night. The chief of police even gave out his personal cell phone number to every business owner in Midtown.

Related Article: Is Your Small Business Vulnerable to Security Threats?

Making Midtown a Safer Place to Do Business

The result: crime rates have gone down 52 percent since 2008, vacancy rates are down and new residential units are under development.

Midtown, Detroit; The New York Times

Image via The New York Times

Midtown is not unique. According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, there are an estimated 2,000 similar such business-police partnerships in the United States. The precise nature of the partnerships varies. Sometimes the police focus on a particular problem, such as public drinking or parking lot security. Other times they focus on general crime reduction initiatives.

But what if your business isn’t already in an area where there is an effective business-police partnership? What can small business owners do to partner with police and make their places of work safer for employees and customers?

Form a neighborhood business association

There’s always more power in numbers. Your local police department is motivated to work with the community, particularly if they know that a significant number of community members want to work with them. Also, it streamlines matters if the police have a single point of contact.

Install a video surveillance system and register it with the police

That’s what one group of local businesses did to augment 135 city-owned cameras in downtown Springfield, Mo. The advantage is that this approach cuts out the red tape of obtaining footage and reviewing it. Instead, the police have instant access to a shared database, thus cutting out hours and even days of law enforcement follow-up.

video surveillance on street

Providing an extra set of eyes also fosters the relationship between small businesses and the police, as well as assisting the larger community. For those with privacy concerns, cameras can be aimed at public spaces such as sidewalks and streets, not inside your business, as is the case with the Capital Shield program in Washington, D.C.

The mere presence of cameras, even cameras that aren’t actually functioning, is an effective crime-deterrent.

Related Article: Smart Security: Wireless Security Systems for SMB Owners

Conduct safety classes and invite police participation

Most police departments today have someone specifically tasked with community relations. That person is usually available to give talks on general safety tips, the status of local investigations and other matters related to community affairs. Inviting the police to talk to your employees—or, better yet, employees of your neighborhood business association—improves communications and sets a positive stage for future working relationships and responsiveness.

Granted, recent media attention has not shown the police in the best light. However, generally the police and small businesses both have the same objectives: to live and work in neighborhoods that are as safe as possible. Working together, your business and the police can make that a reality. Just ask the business owners in the Midtown section of Detroit.

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