It makes sense to use video surveillance systems to discourage theft since, according to David Grant Mossman, senior analyst at National Equipment Register (NER), video surveillance can be one of the most significant deterrents to this type of crime.
Headquartered in Jersey City, N.J., NER, a division of the Verisk Crime Analytics unit at Verisk Analytics, is a leading source of information about equipment theft risk.
However, theft prevention isn’t the only way these systems can reduce risk. Consider:
- Video surveillance enabled Brian DeCoster, president of Big Ten Rentals, Iowa City, Iowa, to contradict a woman’s claim that she slipped and fell on his wet floor — there actually was no fall, says DeCoster.
- At Bledsoe’s Equipment, Lee’s Summit, Mo., a customer burned his hand on a walk-behind concrete saw, claiming the heat shield was missing when he rented the equipment. However, says Adam Fouts, Bledsoe’s vice president, counter video surveillance showed the saw was rented and returned with the heat shield intact.
- DeCoster’s video surveillance also confirmed that an employee was watching movies on the job when DeCoster wasn’t around.
- Fouts can monitor his system remotely. This enabled him to confirm a renter’s story that he returned equipment late and after hours, leaving it outside the locked gate. The renter was therefore not charged with conversion when the unit went missing.
Fouts, a former law enforcement officer, says DVRs are located throughout their three locations — two stores in Lee’s Summit and one in Olathe, Kan. Cameras are placed at the front counters and showrooms, in the back shop/loading dock areas, at the front gates — essential for capturing license plates, says Fouts — and at store entrances. Cameras also blanket the rental lot.
He makes it obvious that his stores are under surveillance, explaining this provides more value as a deterrent — a strategy Mossman seconds. “However,” DeCoster says, “if you put up signage, don’t use the words, ‘security camera.’ The last thing you want to do is accept responsibility for someone else’s security.” DeCoster suggests using the word “surveillance” instead.
Although Fouts says video surveillance is a “must” when it comes to avoiding liability, he emphasizes that, “it’s only as good as your practices, such as making sure your equipment has all guards, warning labels and so on, and that appropriate procedures are followed.”
The same holds true when it comes to security, says Mossman, whose biggest concern with video surveillance is that rental operators
don’t become complacent.
“It can’t be a bandage for poor overall security and poor business practices as it pertains to security,” he says. “Otherwise, all video gives
you is a really nice picture of people getting past your poor security.”
Mossman suggests system testing in real-world conditions, like rain or at dawn when the light is poor. Check also in bright sunlight, which can wash out video, says DeCoster.
Other strategies include:
- Using some concealed cameras. “They don’t work as deterrents, but they’re good at capturing activity on the property and also can show when a property is being cased,” Mossman explains. “People act differently when they know they’re on camera. If they don’t know, they may exhibit casing behavior.”
- Tying your system into your monitored alarm. If the alarm goes off, the alarm company can see the video, says Mossman, explaining that police are more responsive to live video showing a break-in since this confirms the alarm wasn’t accidentally triggered.
- Outsourcing. DeCoster found maintaining the 76 cameras placed throughout his several businesses overwhelming, so he’s transitioning to a security company. They’ll check each location remotely and make necessary repairs — a move prompted by a camera that failed to record the theft of three catalytic converters off of his Penske trucks.
- Upgrading. DeCoster already is making this move to take advantage of new technology. “A few of the new cameras in the warehouse have a feature that shows details even when there is strong backlight from open garage doors,” he says. “They even make cameras that vibrate occasionally to keep spiders from building a web across the lens.”
Also make sure the system actually does capture license plates legibly, says Fouts, adding that outside cameras should be high-quality in order to get as much detail as possible.
“These can be pricey, but it’s very important,” he says. “In my experience as a law enforcement officer, I saw a lot of poor-quality video that was essentially useless, so you don’t want to skimp.”
There also are legal ramifications of video surveillance. For more information on this topic, see the Risk Management column published in the September 2007 issue of Rental Management on page 118.
Maura Paternoster is risk manager for ARA Insurance in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.