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Crack Down

Violent crime prevention in casinos

Crack Down

No one wants a violent crime to occur on their property, yet they occasionally do based on many different factors. Casino properties by design have a layered security approach, or what is known as “defense in depth.” This concept includes the independent surveillance functions, management oversight, and asset controls such as locks, access controls and alarm systems.

This design assists gaming properties in the crime prevention concept of “deter, detect, and deny” a criminal from committing a violent crime on your property. Most other business environments do not have this layered security approach. Casinos are still considered open or soft target environments with multiple entrances and exits.

As any security director or casino executive knows, when a violent crime occurs on your property, you can expect the incident to dominate employee conversations as well as customer perceptions of how safe your property is. Depending on the circumstances, press coverage and other factors, a single violent crime can have a long-lasting negative impact on operations. Those include from the victim’s own personal impact through the criminal process if the perpetrator was caught, and through the civil litigation that typically follows, alleging you allowed it to occur by some operational deficiency.

Although this article is geared towards U.S.-based casino properties, violent crime is a worldwide problem. The rise of shooting incidents in the U.S. creates a higher risk of gun violence if you live in the U.S. as compared to many other countries. As a result, the security posture of many U.S. gaming properties is also changing.

Violent crimes occur everywhere in the world, yet they are not as prevalent in gaming environments as the general public believes they are. When you consider the number of people in any given 24-hour period that visit or patronize a casino (head counts), and you compare that moving population to the number of violent crimes that occur, the chances or risk of being a victim of a violent crime at most casinos are very low.

You are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime in another business environment than in a casino overall. In fact, in cities and jurisdictions where gaming is legalized, that violent crime rate is typically lower than those without casinos when measured by the FBI based on the crime rate per 100,000 residents.

The FBI defines violent crime as homicide, robbery, sexual assault (rape) and aggravated assault when serious injury occurs or a weapon is used. Domestic violence is classified separately, and typically involves interpersonal disputes between people. Domestic violence is difficult for security personnel to anticipate or prevent.

Nationally, violent crimes, especially homicide, appear to be on the decline, although the statistics are not complete for 2023. Property crimes also appear to be down for 2023. Property crimes typically outpace violent or nuisance crimes significantly year over year. Regardless, an ongoing assessment and documented reasonable attempts to reduce violent crime is a positive practice.

Civil Litigation

What does come with the rare violent crime occurrence in a casino is the increased risk of litigation. Plaintiffs can be not only the victim, they can be other bystanders, and even the participants or offenders, who often also sue the property where the violent crime occurred. It is not unusual to have several people sue a casino as the result of a single violent crime incident.

I can attest to the fact that there is a high demand for security experts to assist casino properties in inadequate-security lawsuits at a much higher rate than before Covid (BC). Lawsuits involving shooting incidents have also increased, as well as robbery events in casino environments, and in some instances when a customer is followed home and robbed after winning a large amount. Inadequate-security lawsuits are on the rise nationally.

With casino properties open to the public, there should be a periodic review of any historical violent crimes, and they should be tracked by the security director or others for any possible trends, temporal data examined, location and countermeasures deployed when they do occur. This assures that the property is making reasonable efforts to track, analyze and deter them from occurring through reasonable mitigation strategies. Documenting this review will be helpful at a civil trial to show the reasonableness of your security program.

Standard of Care

Basic legal concepts require that a casino property provide a reasonable level of safety and security to its customers, visitors and employees. Each attorney or security professional (including legal security experts who testify at trial) has his or her own perception of what is reasonable or what should be included in a security plan.

The standard of care is what a reasonable and comparable casino property would do to protect customers as compared to yours. As a legal concept, a casino property and its owners are expected to have security measures in place, and if they do, defending them during a lawsuit becomes much easier. It is the judge or jury that will determine whether your security measures were adequate or not.

Because of the many jurisdictional issues involving gaming, there is no one single set of printed security measures that should be implemented in all casinos, and not all casinos require every security measure be in place. Collectively, there are many components that establish what the standard of care is, and include applicable statutory and case laws, local regulations, and ordinances. Tribal gaming operations, compacts and gaming commissions may also dictate a portion of the standard of care.

When it can be demonstrated to a jury that there was an obvious motivation to reduce or prevent violent crime through reasonable implementation of safety and security programs, your chances of prevailing at trial increase. Your chances of case dismissals also increase if you can demonstrate your reasonable security plan in place during legal discovery.

In many states, there exists case law that guides casino properties based on local precedent. Your company attorney can pull that case law and complete an analysis of what security measures are in place, and compare it to what the courts in your jurisdictions have determined what security measures should be in place to mitigate litigation.

The Physical Protection System (PPS), or the reasonable security measures deployed and in place, do have some time-tested results in the general sense in that those security measures can deter criminals who are deterrable. Security measures are not effective on criminals who are not deterred by the obvious uniformed security officer patrolling, increased lighting, or the large number of surveillance cameras found both inside and outside of a gaming facility. The widespread use of “hoodies” by criminals shows how they evolve, adapt and avoid technology detection or identification. This should be considered when designing countermeasures.

The standard of care includes what the community standard is, what common practices taken by nearby substantially similar casino properties are in place as compared to your property. This also includes any policies and procedures designed for safety and security (self-imposed standards) at your property. The security director should determine if security personnel are complying with any written violent crime prevention policies and procedures.

Every security director or manager should know what their nearby counterparts are doing as it relates to security measures. This is accomplished through the establishment of communications with competitor property security directors to the security director actually walking competitor casino floors and parking areas, and comparing them to yours.

As an example, if your property does not have a full-time outside patrol vehicle and your five nearest casino properties do, you could have difficulty establishing that you did what was reasonable in the event of a parking lot robbery. Perps most likely know what the security deficiencies are at your property, and if they believe the reward outweighs the risk.

What is Your Crime Risk?

There are companies that perform crime risk assessments by analyzing police call data and police reports. Security directors can do it themselves depending on their experience and background, but it can be time-consuming. In almost every civil lawsuit, police data is an important piece of evidence that can impact a jury one way or another.

If you want to know what your violent crime risk is, a historical record from your local police department can be helpful as a starting point. The local crime prevention office can provide a history of police calls, or “calls for service,” that identify why the police were called to a specific address and basic disposition of the call.

Although these summaries do not give sufficient details of each crime, it is a good starting point to measure if your property is experiencing any violent crime calls to the police or if they are increasing or decreasing in time. Specific data on the relationship between the victim and offender is also useful to determine if a violent crime was interpersonal or committed by a stranger. This can be obtained through a freedom-of-information request.

Many casino properties have a police department liaison that can get more specific data on violent crimes occurring anywhere on your property. This valuable resource can also assist in more situational crime prevention programs such as robbery prevention. If a property is experiencing robberies of customers in their parking lot, additional patrols, escorts of customers to their cars, increased lighting, additional surveillance cameras, stepped-up camera patrols by surveillance, and warning signs will all have some deterrent value.

Once you have the police call data, you can pull those calls that are most likely violent crimes and then compare them to the security or surveillance department proprietary property incident reports. It is not uncommon that people will file a police report at the station claiming they were robbed when in reality, they may have gambled away the rent money. In those instances, the property is unaware of the reported violent crime unless that security law enforcement liaison reports to the security director.

Security Officers

Security

Although there are very few criminology studies that demonstrate that uniformed security presence actually deters crime in general, the perception is generally accepted that patrolling or posted uniformed security makes people feel comfortable and does deter some crime. This concept has been around for centuries, and can be best illustrated in medieval times when a wealthy landowner would build a castle and man it with a guard (sentry) with a weapon of the day, standing at the entrance to keep marauders and criminals away.

Although manpower is by far the biggest expense in any security program, frequently patrolling security officers do have a positive impact on customers and do help deter criminal activity overall. We are informed that most casino security departments are operating between 5 percent and 20 percent below approved staffing levels due to an inability to recruit qualified applicants. This condition creates challenges for the contemporary security director and requires creative solutions.

Those security officers patrolling should be trained in what to look for, but more importantly to acknowledge the legitimate users of the environment (casino customers). Security patrol is a form of guest protection, and security personnel should be trained in the process. It is not all common sense.

This is done with a smile, a look, a thumb’s up or just some form of verbal or nonverbal communication that security is on the job as they patrol. Making eye contact with customers makes them aware you are there and doing your job. This age-old public relations tool will go far in the property security saturation and presence (footprint) as seen by your customers, other employees and the bad guys.

At the same time, identifying those who do not have a legitimate business purpose of being in the casino or parking area can be identified through the IOU Process (Identify, Observe, Understand). Coined by casino security consultant Derk Boss, this process allows the security officer to identify the person that appears out of place, is not gambling, or is acting unusual or suspiciously, and understand the circumstances.

With observation, the security officer can then assure that the person is not a legitimate customer by their actions and determine if contact is warranted. Although this takes practice, if the security officer stops, folds their arms and looks directly at the person for at least 5 seconds, that person will be well aware that security has noticed them and in many cases they will leave. Again, increasing the security posture overall. In other circumstances, an ID request may be in order. As any experienced casino security officer knows, those suspicious persons rarely have an ID and can be immediately requested to leave.

Targeted Security Patrol

Creative security directors have also increased the security footprint without adding personnel through creative management techniques such as “Target Area Security.” This concept takes security tasks and functions and adds an additional layer of security patrol by identifying areas that would benefit from increased security presence. Logging the time of patrols in the dispatch record will show the frequency of this guest protection measure and determine the last time an area was patrolled for future information.

A simple example is to identify a location at the beginning of each security shift. Then require all casino security officers to specifically patrol a slot area, bar, or other location on the way to or from other tasks such as when returning from a table fill, when returning from break, during staff rotations, or other times. This concept floods an area with uniformed security without adding staff and expense, and accomplishes an immediate elevated presence. The next oncoming shift can continue in that area or start a targeted patrol in another.

Restrooms are a good location where targeted security patrol is effective. Monitoring for illegal use of drugs and sex may just help prevent a violent crime from occurring. Restrooms are a location where violent crimes occur such as robbery, aggravated assault and rape, primarily because there are no surveillance cameras in restrooms by law based on the expectation of privacy.

More and more security departments are moving to armed security positions from unarmed. This is an arduous and comprehensive process as it relates to training, background checks, equipment requirements and periodic range qualification, and can affect insurance premiums. Many casino properties are concerned that with the steady increase in active shooter incidents, it is a reasonable step to train and arm at least certain security personnel to assist in responding to one of those horrific events. Yet other larger gaming companies have found success in deploying an armed emergency response team that is armed similar to police.

Security officials should take the time to obtain violent crime data from local police and design countermeasures if there are any crime trends, spikes or repeat locations. Track any violent crimes collectively with your security management team and strategically implement some form of targeted security patrol as an additional safety and security layer on your property.

Alan W. Zajic, CPP, CSP, is a Nevada-licensed independent security consultant specializing in gaming environments. He teaches security and surveillance for the UNLV and UNR gaming management programs. For more information, go to www.alanzajic.com.

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