While break-ins and vandalism may not seem like a priority for early childhood centres, they can happen and taking proactive steps to prevent crime will ensure you minimise exposure to risk and keep your centre safe and secure for the welfare of your staff, children and community.
In March, The New Zealand Herald reported on a Whangārei childcare centre hit by a string of thefts and vandalism. Fencing was damaged and items were stolen including a shade cloth used for the children’s sun protection. The repeated attacks have been costly with items requiring replacement or repair.
Taking a proactive approach to security can provide your centre with the best chance of protection from any criminal incidents. So where do you start?
The first step is a risk assessment to determine security issues. This should lead to the formulation of a plan to control and manage these risks.
There’s an old saying that “opportunity makes the thief,” so it makes sense that crimes can be prevented by reducing opportunities. A risk assessment helps identify any issues that make your centre vulnerable, which then allows better elimination of the ‘opportunity’ for a crime to be committed.
To get you started you can adapt this security survey for your business and use it to highlight any security weaknesses on your premises.
International company Markel Insurance says that 90 per cent of burglary prevention is physical security. They advise, “If your centre is locked up and unauthorised entry is made difficult, time consuming, noisy and visible, chances of a successful burglary are kept to a minimum. The burglar will pass up your business and look for an easier target.”
Here are their tips on how to prevent break-ins and burglary:
- Remember crime prevention is an ongoing task, not something to be focused on once and forgotten about. The causes of crime don’t go away and so shouldn’t vigilance.
- Make sure all outside entrances and inside security doors have deadbolt locks. Locks on all outside entrances and inside security doors should be double cylinder deadbolts with moveable collars.
- Doors (all outside or security doors) should be of solid construction. Jams around doors must be solid. All exposed hinges should be pinned to prevent removal.
- Provide training for all employees so they are familiar with security procedures and know your expectations.
- Evaluate outside lighting. Include motion sensor lights, photocell lights, or lights controlled by a timer.
- Consider leaving a personal car parked at your centre over the weekend and a light or two on inside the building. Vary your patterns.
- Consider digital security cameras, which can serve as a deterrent and improve chances of prosecution if a criminal is caught.
- Windows should have secure locks and burglar-resistant glass. Move valuable merchandise away from the door and windows to prevent “smash and grab” thefts.
- Use an employee identification system, if practical. If you have many employees, this gives you additional control. Do not tag your keys with the name of your business.
- Consider burglar alarm security systems that can also be part of your fire alarm systems.
- If your centre collects cash make bank deposits often and during business hours. Do not establish a regular pattern. Take different routes at different times during the day.
- Organise a business watch, patterned after the Neighbourhood Watch concept. Get to know the people who operate the businesses in your area. Watch for suspicious activity and report it to the police immediately. Advertise that you are a member.
- Mark all electronics, including computers, televisions, stereos, and DVD players with an identification number. Keep a record of all identification numbers off the premises with other important records.
- If a thief confronts you or your employees, cooperate. Merchandise and cash can always be replaced, but people cannot.
Graffiti is another problem that carries a hefty clean-up cost. Adopting aspects of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) can be used to discourage this type of crime and promote building security. The concept of CPTED is simple. Just as buildings and properties can be designed to prevent damage from the force of the elements and natural disasters; they should also be designed to prevent crime.
Strategies can be as straightforward as good maintenance, like rapidly removing graffiti, which deters offenders who want their tag to be highly visible. Other deterrents can include:
- Making it more difficult for graffiti offenders to apply paint or markers to surfaces
- Limiting access to areas that are likely targets of graffiti
- Enhancing surveillance to deter vandals
- Using anti-graffiti coatings to facilitate fast removal of graffiti
- Use hedging plants or creeping vegetation to cover walls, or natural fencing material (e.g. bamboo or bush reed fencing). Ensure that it does not provide a natural ladder to property access points
- Alternatively use vegetation as a natural barrier to stop offenders reaching the surface
Here are some additional landscaping tips to consider for deterring crime:
- The location of trees and large shrubs should take into consideration their impact on visibility and opportunities for concealment.
- Dense shrubs should be no more than 60 to 70cm high
- Trees should not provide a natural ladder onto roofs or upper stores.
- Movement activated or solar powered lighting can be incorporated into landscaping to provide relatively inexpensive improvements to night surveillance
- Pebbles (too small to cause damage when thrown) or other noise producing ground coverings can increase an offender’s fear of detection
- A well-maintained outdoor area can reduce vandalism by giving the residence a “cared for” appearance. Showing the property is paid attention to increases the sense of surveillance and reduces offender comfort as it reinforces ownership of the area.
A dedicated security professional can advise early childhood services on effective practices to make it difficult for a burglar or vandal to enter your premises. Alternatively, contact your local police to ask if they can walk-through your centre and provide some crime prevention ideas.
Resources and further reading
Wellington City Council: Crime prevention through environmental design