Personal security is such a vexing and elusive state of being. At one minute, life seems warm and fuzzy and the next, the end of the world seems to be crashing in. Homeowners associations are often called on to provide security for the community. Some provide controlled entry, armed patrols, video cameras and other high tech gadgetry. Others build fences and moats. All of this is costly. Does it really do the trick?

Security is mostly perception. And that perception works both sides of the street: resident’s perception and intruder’s perception. Both can perceive a secure environment but not necessarily at the same time. For example, a resident may feel secure because of a new video surveillance system. The intruder laughs because the whole system can be neutralized easily or has major gaps.

One thing is clear. The association needs to be careful about preempting local law enforcement, especially when we're talking about break and enter or physical altercations. Doing so may expose the association to additional liability. There have been a number of significant court cases that found the association responsible for facilitating assaults, rapes and other violent crimes by failing to provide promised "security". In most of those cases, claims of community security were boasted. Never make such boasts. They are a challenge to criminals and great lawsuit fodder for attorneys.

On the other hand, the association should be conscious of the security issue and make the buildings and grounds reasonably safe and secure. There are many relatively inexpensive things the association and the residents can do. Normal security measures rarely work for long because, as the saying goes, "Locks only keep your friends out". Residents are often the worst gap in security. They leave gates open, hand out keys and codes, and rarely question strangers even if they see them breaking into someone's car.

For this weak link, a Neighborhood Watch Committee is helpful. If resident security laxness is detected, individuals can be reminded personally or periodic reminders sent or posted about specific security issues. The Committee's job is to keep residents aware, not scared. Information distribution and meetings are particularly effective following a crime. The Committee can also host meetings with guest speakers like police, detectives and security companies. We all know what we should do. Reminders help keep us better security focused.

While cameras and guards seem like a good idea, bad guys rarely parade in plain view. It's better to have residents make repeated calls to local police requesting more frequent patrols. Police do count the calls in determining where they should place patrols. Another cheap and effective security measure is posting highly visible "24 HOUR SURVEILLANCE" signs. If the bad guys can read, a fair number of them are deterred. Fake video cameras in visible locations with red blinking lights also work. The fact that there is neither 24 hour surveillance nor real cameras doesn't inform the criminal of that. If you can deter 3 out of 5, you've just reduce crime by 60%.

Security is mostly perception. While the association can pay for expensive guard services, the guards can't be everywhere at once. And you can buy expensive security cameras and recorders but who's going to monitor the equipment? And even if you catch someone on camera, the chances are slim you can identify them.

The association should provide a reasonable level of safety and security. Be sensible. Exterior lighting should be well placed and working. Gates and locks should be heavy duty. Landscaping should be trimmed to reduce cover and to allow light to disperse. Get the resident’s security perception in alignment with the intruder’s. Once both are on the same page, security becomes closer to reality.

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