Parking Security – Let’s Face Reality! Are We Really Securing Anything Using CCTV?


Parking Security – Let’s Face Reality! Are We Really Securing Anything Using CCTV?

Parking security is an important component of any parking system, whether it be surface lots or parking structures. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) continues to be a much-discussed and often misunderstood and misused component of parking system management.
An article we wrote last year for Parking Today discussed general issues briefly and owners/operators were left with many choices for deciding what works best in any given environment.
In this article, we shall get into some detail about, perhaps, the most used and the most abused electronic component of parking security –closed-circuit television.
Everyone wants cameras someplace on or in their property. If we can see an event, we can defend it. Or can we? And do we see it? And do we see it under all conditions? And what are our responsibilities to the patrons and staff while we use CCTV? Do we really gain an enhanced security environment?
The questions go on and on, as do our costs. We’ll cover a few issues here.

Does CCTV add to the
protection of patrons and employees?
Efforts to deter, detect, delay and respond to patrons’ security needs might be enhanced by CCTV, but it has its limitations. When properly utilized, it gives management a tool to better operate their facilities. Too often, however, it will be merely something we point to proudly as a feature, but that really does little or nothing to address crime in parking facilities.
And CCTV can create feelings of comfort and protection for patrons, while, in fact, it does no such thing. Unrealistic expectations are created.
How can we deter a crime when we use cameras that are so small that they are barely noticed by anyone, let alone by the bad guys? And then we use poor quality cameras with images that are poor at best and unable to be enlarged for identification purposes. Television’s “CSI” teams would be hard-pressed to decipher the images produced by third-rate cameras that are recorded at less-than-ideal resolutions.
I’m hammering at the single greatest problem we find when reviewing security systems at parking facilities: substandard equipment expected to provide “CSI”-quality video.
So, are people really protected by such systems? Our answer is a resounding no! Can we expect CCTV systems today to allow us to clearly see and identify activities, vehicles and people in our parking environment? This time it’s a resounding yes!

What to do?
Well, before we can find answers, we must ask questions. To begin the design of a CCTV system, we should know the following basics:
1- What crime or security history do we have in the facility?
2- What really occurs identified by time of day and day of week?
3- Are incidents decreasing, increasing or remaining the same as the previous three-to-five years?
4- Where on the property are the incidents happening?
What we’re getting at here is that a “needs analysis” must be performed, one based on fact, not anecdotes. Unfortunately, too many operators do not maintain records of such things, so anecdotal evidence is all that’s available.

Equipment selection is not haphazard
Cameras should be capable of viewing several things:
Every point where vehicles and pedestrians enter or exit.
Vehicle license plates.
Emergency call stations (intercoms/phones).
Elevator cab interiors.
Pay-on-foot stations.
Lobbies or other loitering points.
Customer assistance intercoms/phones.
Parking areas to a limited degree.
Cashier booths and cash-handling/counting areas.
A good approach to equipment is that we may be better off purchasing fewer cameras that have the technology and refinement to allow us to the capture vital information, rather than buying multiples of a lesser-rated camera that provides nearly unusable video under routine conditions.
Buy less if you must, but buy better, and then add as budgets allow.
The purchase and installation of one specific camera model for all locations in and around a parking facility is usually a flawed choice. Needs differ from interior to exterior locations, all with varying levels of light, intensity, direction, shadowing, etc. Generally, a single camera model cannot handle all possibilities.
Today’s manufacturers have models that will meet virtually any need in your facilities. And, yes, you will be able to read descriptive information such as license plates.

Signs mean nothing?
Reputable studies performed in other countries – unfortunately, not the U.S. – indicate that signs may have some impact on patron behavior. For example, patrons are more likely to conceal valuables if reminded of hazards. We encourage you to warn your patrons of any security risks that may exist. You owe it to them, and the courts have held that you may be negligent by keeping safety issues in-house.
But back to CCTV, be very careful about what the text implies on signs that announce it is in use. Be certain that the language does not imply something that does not exist. What do I mean?
We see signs all the time that imply to the general public that someone is watching the CCTV monitors all the time. That is rarely the case. Do not get creative in your desire to encourage patrons to keep coming back because of your security efforts.
A good, noncommittal message may be simply “CCTV IN USE.” Who knows when and where it’s in use, but you are informing guests and potential offenders that it’s out there. Text that informs everyone of CCTV is potentially more of a deterrent than simply installing cameras and hoping someone actually sees them on a wall or column. They have become just too small to be noticed any longer.

Legible video recordings are difficult
The capabilities of most crime scene units are far less advanced than what we see in the movies and on TV. Therefore, we need to furnish law enforcement agencies with the best images we can provide.
Digital video recorders (DVRs) are in widespread use today and should have replaced your video tape recorders by now. You are attempting to achieve clear images that allow identification of a person, car, activity, etc. Other features are helpful, but be certain that the basics are as good as can be.
At least perform the basics well
Parking operators have a myriad of security tools available today that were unthinkable a few years back. Before you embark on solutions, be sure to analyze your operations. Be real. Accept what works and work on what doesn’t.
Seek the expertise of the contractors with whom you have relationships. They know what will work and what won’t. Be sure to give them the direction and limits under which you must operate financially. You are both on the same security team making an effort to provide your patrons with a safer environment, thus, making them more likely to return to your facility.
Buy the best that you can afford, even if it doesn’t cover every single square foot of your property. Then add to that as best can be achieved.
Fortunately for parking patrons, most owners and operators care about their safety. Parking facilities are generally safe because of the hard work and planning that go on among staff and ownership.
But we must not take that for granted.
Diligence in recognizing the realities of our different parking environments will better protect patrons from crime and owners from unnecessary expenses and liabilities.

James L. Johnson is President of his self-named security consulting firm based in St. Paul, MN. Contact him at or (651) 633-5119.

Article contributed by:
James L. Johnson
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