The security of where we park our cars is not something we tend to give a great deal of attention in our day-to-day lives, and yet car parks are prime real estate for criminal elements. This not only impacts our cars and the valuables inside, but the businesses and residences in the surrounding area.
Peter Hughes, Head of Loss Prevention for NCP, has spent many years tackling this issue, both with NCP and in his previous roles within the Greater Manchester Police force, and he has seen the detrimental effect ongoing crime in car parks can be to an area. He points out that it’s a key problem for city centres in particular.
“A car park that isn’t appropriately secure is a hot target for determined criminals.” he said. “The criminal element works as a network, and most are repeat offenders. This means that once they know an area, such as a car park, is easy to access they will revisit the site repeatedly and spread the word to others.”
Hughes makes it clear that it’s vital to displace crime from car parks with improved security so that criminals have fewer and fewer targets, forcing them to move on. However, this is not an easy task.
“Many existing car parks were designed and built in the 1960’s without much thought being given to security. This means there are a lot of challenges to installing successful security solutions, and it also makes a standard approach inconceivable as every structure must be approached individually. The very nature of a car park means that it’s open, it’s meant to be accessed, and in the majority of cases car parks are open to the general public, making access control unthinkable.” Hughes said.
The control of all points of ingress and egress is vital, according to Hughes. Security teams must be aware of all entrances and exits and measures must be taken to manage all of them. Hughes recommends several approaches, most of which are standard in NCP car parks, including:
- Reducing the amount of entrances and exits used by the public.
- Where possible, seal off areas not for public use and control access.
- Employ emergency break glass or door alarms to all emergency exits.
- Ensure the structure is manned by staff
However, Hughes is not satisfied with simply deterring criminals from targeting a structure, he wants to stamp out repeat offending and reduce crime all together. To accomplish this, he stresses the importance of interagency cooperation and shared knowledge.
He said, “A large amount of the theft seen in city centre car parks is as a result of repeat offending. These offenders are known to law enforcement agencies, they know who they are, what they look and dress like and how they operate. This information is a massive help to car park security personnel, so it’s clearly beneficial for these organisations, with the support of local authorities, to come together and find a central way of working.”
In Manchester city centre, NCP’s Loss Prevention Department, led by Hughes, undertook such a partnership with Greater Manchester Police. Car crime is a large problem for the city centre, with crime sprees taking place in waves normally at the hands of criminals known to the police. So it was widely understood that by taking repeat offenders off the streets crime would be considerably lower. NCP ran a joint operation with Greater Manchester Police endeavouring to do just that.
“We identified several ‘hotspot’ NCP car parks and purchased some vehicles which the police fitted with covert cameras. We then kitted them out with sat navs and baby seats to make them look like any another vehicle left on the car park to entice criminals in,” said Hughes.
He added, “Some sat navs were fitted with tracking devices so the police could follow the thieves and make arrests, and some were dummy sat navs. We placed the dummies in cars parked on the street and positioned ourselves in key vantage points with high powered lense cameras. When someone broke into a car to steal the dummy we were able to capture images of them as evidence as well as communicate at all stages with the police, who were located strategically nearby, over airwave radio network.”
Initiatives like this succeed in two ways according to Hughes. Initially the operation is covert, so it catches determined criminals and ensures a conviction, removing them from the streets. However, eventually word spreads that this operation is in effect and the initiative becomes an effective deterrent system.
A similar scheme was run between NCP and other police forces across the country to great success. For example, a partnership with Westminster Police helped reduce the number of crimes in privately owned car parks by 58%.
The relationship with police forces and Hughes’ own experience greatly influences the way NCP security staff operate and are able to continually innovate. Not only are all NCP operatives fully trained in skills such as securing evidence at the scene of a crime, but Hughes’ knowledge of criminal elements generates new approaches to security.
Hughes gives a particular example saying, “Having worked in Manchester city centre as a police officer I am a familiar face with certain individuals, so it’s been possible for me to build some relationships. From just chatting with these people a wealth of knowledge on how thieves operate emerges. For instance, thieves are aware that they are known to the police, and they know that once they have broken into a car and stolen something CCTV systems will track them from one location to the next. Their solution is to find a ‘hiding place’ within the structure to store their stolen goods, so that if they apprehended they do not have it with them. They then return at a later date for their ‘loot’.”
This information enables NCP car parks to identify these areas and put a stop to the practice. But NCP is keen to share its knowledge.
“We are not working simply to secure our private properties. We are working to eradicate crime. So we always share our knowledge with other providers, nearby businesses, the police and other stakeholders such as government. Anyone seeking advice and information is always welcome to approach us. The only way to succeed is to cooperate and pool our knowledge.”