Patrol Tactics - Business Checks

By: Jonathan D. Greenstein December 3, 2010
The following article is a complication of lessons learned, best practices and the author’s personal experiences: It does not reflect any official agency position or policy. Before applying anything contained herein, ensure you consult your agencies policies and procedures and competent advisors.

One of the most frequently conducted tasks on regular patrol is a business check. Be it the monotony or the waning hours of our shifts, we often accomplish business checks by simply driving by at about ten miles per hour, maybe shining a spotlight through windows and proceeding along to the next destination. By taking a few extra seconds and leveraging what we have learned, perhaps we can detect or deter a business burglary. The following is general guidance, but should serve to enhance the effect of business checks and may result in an apprehension of some bad guys in the act. The purpose of business checks is to prevent and detect criminal activity; be it burglaries, unlicensed or after hour operations, compliance checks, illegal dumping or public nuisance acts. Due to varying operating hours and the nature of the area where the business is located, you may be checking a large number of business premises that are closed at the same general time, or which are interspaced with 9 to 5 operations and all night shops. When you conduct the drive-by, particularly at night, use the inherent features present at most locations to your advantage. Most double door entrances provide the opportunity to visualize the locks condition; as you drive by; look to see if the gap between the doors reveals the bolt. Some burglars have used hand saws to cut the bolt and gain entry, while closing staff may have also forgotten to lock the door. Ensure you are checking the backs of business establishments, more so if they provide hiding places where a burglar or potential robber can lie in wait as the closing shift hauls trash out to the dumpsters. Don’t neglect adjoining businesses, more so those that are out of business or which may not be the type to normally be alarmed; some burglaries originate in neighboring units and burrow through the shared wall. A common tactic for break-through burglars is to enter a vacant or unalarmed neighbor and use saws or bruit force to break through the drywall into the target location. While movement sensors may detect their presence, they may simply retreat into the adjoining unit until the coast is clear; this highlights the need to check neighboring units during regular patrols and when responding to alarms. Depending on call volume and patrol activity requirements, I have always advocated spending the first and earliest part of your shift dedicated to assessing the state of your patrol zone and making a mental note of what you see. This serves you later in the shift; hopefully you took notice of that road construction on Elm, the movers unloading yet another foreclosed business, the abandoned van on 23rd and so on. While you may not have the chance to check the entire zone, use what time is available to focus on areas of concern. This concern may be based upon past experiences, information received at roll call or from previous shifts.

Take some time to review activity reports for your respective and neighboring beat, do they indicate a pattern or MO of robberies; such can be used to identify potential targets in your patrol area. Are robberies tied to a particular type of business; such can be used to identify like establishments and thus focus increased patrol checks. Proactive Policing Engage business owners in providing crime prevention surveys and tips. Aside from the obvious such as installing alarms, appropriate lighting and securing cash and valuables, you may also find opportunity to address other issues such as removing window coverings, reporting suspicious and or nuisance activities around the business. Maintaining the principle that prevention and deterrence serves the greater goal is the driving force behind proactive contacts. Ensure you remain engaged with business owners and operators; taking the time to know the personalities, operating rituals and related can later serve as potential indicators in times of trouble. While your department may have a designated crime prevention liaison or specialist who focuses on conducting assessments of businesses, this should not keep you from making observations of some common issues and casually recommending corrective actions. These, as noted can include ensuring there is a clear line of sight into the establishment from the street facing windows, employing the two person at night rule, limiting cash on hand and the regular upkeep of alarms. By remaining engaged with your businesses you are cementing the critical relationships our communities need. To highlight, some of the most common issues encountered at businesses include: Obstructed view from the street; which can conceal robberies in progress. CCTV units in disrepair; hampering the ability to identify perpetrators. Excess cash on hand; increasing the potential for robbery and repeat robberies. Other non-residential entities that you should seek to engage with include but are not limited to: houses of worship, garages/parking facilities, hotels, educational facilities, utility stations and sub-stations. These locations are potential targets for not only robbery and theft, but possible disruptive activity and terrorists. Each warrants its own form of assessment, the in-depth reviews conducted by crime prevention specialists and those conducted as a matter of practice by patrol units. As you are well aware, the surge in metal theft targets locations where copper wire is readily accessed; this lends itself to extra attention needing to be paid to utility locations (cell towers, ground located power units, and empty retail locations). As related to possible terrorist targets, nearly any location where crowds congregate or where opposed activities are hosted can be potential targets. As you conduct your patrols and public contacts, take some time to identify potential targets in your sector. Think hypothetically. If you were a criminal or terrorist, what would make an attractive target and why? Try to identify mitigation to the observation.

Tips As noted earlier, when you patrol through your sector, remain alert for potential targets. Use all the resources available; crime reports, BOLOs, trend analysis and community contact. These resources will help to focus what is becoming a limited resource: time and manpower. By learning about criminal and terrorist MOs, you can approach potential targets with a renewed viewpoint and apply proactive mitigation. It is through past incidents that we identify how to best prevent future incidents. While criminals evolve in their techniques, we will realize a greater potential to prevent and detect when we learn from past cases. When you conduct business and premise checks, take the time that is required to fully survey the location before you find yourself on top of it. Often times, you are better able to identify potential issues further away from a location. Do you see a suspicious person casing the location, an unusual vehicle idling in the alley. Is someone paying more attention to the security aspects of a location that the actual business establishment. All of these are key elements that you learned early on to detect potential crimes in progress or about to be committed; use them.

About the Author: Jonathan Greenstein has been involved in law enforcement and public safety for over fifteen years, having served as a patrol officer, field training officer, watch commander and criminal investigator. A graduate of numerous advanced training programs to include Hostage and Crisis Negotiations, Active Shooter Response and Tactical Operations; he applies his professional experience and training to the development best practices, policy and in the law enforcement oversight and advisory role. His most recent publications include articles related to officer safety, risk assessment and monographs that identify cues of terrorist activity and radicalization indicators. He may be contacted by email through: jonathan.greenstein@leo.gov

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