As the parking plans in casinos along the Strip in Las Vegas change to paid services, the associated overall risks in parking environments should be re-evaluated. The move to paid parking will migrate into other markets as the casinos in Las Vegas work through the operational challenges of this new concept to customers and the changes in team member parking processes and inconveniences.
The risks to gaming enterprises as it relates to parking lot incidents and crimes is high for both surface parking lots and parking garages, regardless if it is pay parking or not. Past studies by Liability Consultants, Inc. indicate that the highest risk for security litigation is in parking areas and hotel environments, as opposed to the casino complex itself.
This is especially true in free self-parking environments where people can come and go at will. The conversions to pay parking have not typically included strict ingress/egress controls or secured perimeters.
Only time will tell if the conversion to paid parking and what security measures are implemented will be enough to reduce the risk of crimes and incidents occurring in parking areas. The immediate effect demonstrates a reduced crime rate along the Strip. Although larger facilities are using third-party parking vendors, it does not absolve them from claims and liability based on the non-delegable legal duty of the land owner. The majority of casinos in the U.S. are still free parking with a valet component. Managing player incentive parking access, cash collection locations and basic enforcement creates unique challenges for a full paid parking casino property.
Parking security should be designed in layers and combine multiple proven crime deterrent measures in a reasonable, practical and cost-effective manner. Payroll costs, energy, maintenance and security should overlap to present the highest possible security footprint to both the legitimate user and the bad guys.
Crimes in Parking Areas
Generally, crimes occur in parking areas regardless of whether the lot is a paid or free self-parking facility. Because parking areas are difficult to harden or fence in to prohibit unauthorized access, crimes will occur as a result of spillover from the casino or customers who wander through the parking areas becoming a victim to a criminal event. Urban paid parking lots historically experience criminal incidents as frequently as free parking facilities across the U.S., absent strict ingress/egress controls including security personnel. Criminals are very good at adapting to the environment and finding a weakness to exploit over time.
If a casino successfully is able to maintain a secure perimeter and prohibit unauthorized access to that parking facility, they should be successful in reducing the risks of violent crime. In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force. These crimes present the highest risk to a parking facility. If a customer who won money in the casino is able to wander into the parking area, be followed and robbed by a third party and be injured or killed, the liability exposure is still the same.
Property crimes such as theft, burglary and grand theft auto occur in both secured and unsecured environments daily across the U.S. Depending on the jurisdiction, legal responsibility is typically limited based on decades-old innkeeper statutes and other laws, and very well may change when converting to a paid parking process where the expectation of the customer increases when they are paying for the pleasure of parking and they are victimized during that business arrangement. Recent experience has resulted in increased customer dissatisfaction when they have paid for parking and their vehicle is damaged or burglarized.
Local laws and case law should also be evaluated. Any casino executive who has had to pay a claim for the theft of a vehicle from the property’s valet area is well aware of the risk and exposure to these large-value property crimes. Casino properties typically have a high self-insured retention, and are obligated to pay claims and associated costs directly out of the profits. Just because a casino is using a third-party parking vendor does not mean that their employees are not capable of committing crimes or exposing the property to liability.
The common crimes that occur in parking areas range from the armed robbery of a customer or parking booth attendant to the burglary and break-in of a vehicle while either in or out of the casino’s control and custody. Homicides do occur frequently in parking areas across the U.S. The property should obtain statistical data internally on parking-area incidents and from the local police on an annual basis to measure effectiveness of security measures and to monitor crime trends. You can be assured that in the event of a lawsuit, the plaintiff will obtain these records in an attempt to prove an ongoing risk to customers.
Uniformed Security Patrol
As many casinos along the Strip quickly realized, payroll costs increase for security to monitor and assure paid parking is being managed and the desired revenue is collected. They also realized a decrease in incidents as a result of the mere increase in security presence, even if the security officer was just posted at the drive entrance to a parking area.
Careful evaluation of specific functions required to manage a paid parking facility should be evaluated to determine if it should be a security function or if it should fall under facilities. Cashiers, ticket management and other positional functions that are not directly related to a security purpose should not be assigned to security if they cannot perform traditional security functions or respond to an incident.
As in any public environment, the security of a parking area should be reasonable and appropriate for the environment. The most common security deterrent is still the presence of a uniformed, identifiable security officer present at sufficient intervals. Each property should evaluate what they believe is a reasonable presence when it comes to the patrol of parking areas. Many security experts opine that the presence of a uniformed security officer should occur at every part of a parking lot at least every 60-90 minutes. If there is a history of violent crimes, the frequency should increase accordingly.
The presence of a clearly visible security vehicle, including bicycles, with flashing lights is also quite common and effective in demonstrating reasonable security. The new LED lights designed for vehicles and bicycles flashing throughout the parking areas is not only a visible deterrent; it promotes a safer environment to the customers or legitimate users of the facility.
Most major gaming markets utilize the bright yellow uniforms with the word security boldly printed across the front and back. This is a proven uniform that not only identifies the officer at great distances, but makes it obvious to responding police who is security. The combination of flashing lights, bright yellow uniforms and moving security personnel are at least reasonable, and fare well in a courtroom in the event of a civil or criminal trial. They also are easily identifiable through cameras being monitored by security or surveillance personnel. Proof of patrol by security personnel or by camera should be logged to demonstrate presence and compliance to self-imposed standards.
The desirable parking environment should present a security footprint to the observer that includes multiple security measures with a primary focus on patrol. Anytime anyone looks at the parking areas, they should be able to observe a security officer, vehicle, camera dome or other device which provides reasonable security to users and demonstrates an effective security footprint regardless of the time of day or night.
All-Employee Security Participation
Regardless of the employee classification or duties, there should be a written protocol located within that job description that provides for the concept that security is every employee’s job and responsibility. A cleaning employee can provide a presence and ability to report an observation of unusual or suspicious activity, which provides an additional set of eyes and ears. This includes parking employees, shuttle drivers, maintenance workers and any team member who has duties in the parking areas.
When combined and managed, the overall employee cooperation and involvement in reporting incidents and observations to security can be very powerful in deterring crime, creating a safer environment and proving beneficial in a civil trial when being sued. Although this practice gets lip service, it does not always make it to the written protocols to prove in the event of a claim.
Electronic Patrol Systems
There are numerous electronic patrol systems that can be installed throughout a parking facility that assist in assurance of adequate security patrol and presence. These systems are simplistic in that a button or bar code is read through a reader or proximity device and records the security presence at a location, by a particular security officer at a particular time and date. This is a management tool that can be very useful to monitor self-imposed security patrol standards in place. The device is either downloaded or transmits each predesigned location into the dispatching software or onto a PC with a record of security presence throughout a facility.
When considering these systems, it should be emphasized that once installed, it should be mandated that it be used as dictated by the policies and procedures, and that activity of the security officer be reviewed, monitored and enforced through appropriate discipline if warranted. Adding this component also creates an additional layer of security oversight to the parking environment, and is simplistic proof of security presence in the event of a robbery or assault.
Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV)
Cameras are found in almost every business environment. Casinos have typically dominated the standard for cameras based on the casino requirements and regulatory requirements inside the casino. What the regulations rarely address is the exterior parking areas, which, again, have a higher risk for violent crime and as a result become issues during civil lawsuits.
Video camera systems were originally designed as a measure to reduce the number of uniformed security officers in an environment. They have evolved, largely because of casinos, into a necessary and valuable tool to monitor, to record and to have some deterrent value. As each property evolves, the function of who monitors parking areas also makes major changes at the property level depending on property philosophy, general manager philosophy and operational conditions.
Regardless of which department is charged with monitoring parking areas, there should be some form of audit or assurance that the parking lots are being watched, cars are monitored, persons in the environment are monitored and the equipment is being used for what it was designed for. Logs are typically the best practice for assurance of monitoring in casino parking environments. In some larger facilities, specific security control dispatchers are assigned just parking areas and have a constant direct communication via radio, which proves very effective in reducing and keeping criminal incidents to a minimum.
Each property should again determine how often a camera patrol (PTZ Patrol) of a parking area should be accomplished during work shifts. Regardless of who is charged with camera observation, they should be in communication with security dispatch or command and control on a regular basis to communicate suspicious observations and monitor uniformed response.
Installation of cameras in parking areas is quite diverse from property to property. Installing cameras in a parking area becomes problematic and expensive when placing weather-proof cameras on light poles or inside of a parking structure with limited placement locations. Every new property or properties replacing surface lot asphalt should consider running conduit to each pole in addition to electrical for future CCTV use. When planning parking structures, additional conduit should also be planned for future CCTV use. Pan-tilt-and-zoom (PTZ) cameras are highly useful in all outdoor areas, and give flexibility for monitoring. Camera resting positions can be programmed and implemented to always return the camera to a desired view when not being actively moved.
The advances in license plate recognition (LPR) cameras and software and strategic placement has also proven to catch criminals through this technology. This is also being used in some markets to identify self-excluded patrons or those that have been banned from the property if their vehicle information is known.
Additional consideration of video retention should be made regarding parking lot incidents during the post investigation. Proof of security presence on video in the parking areas in the hours leading up to the criminal event may just be enough for a dismissal of a cause of action or lawsuit.
Emergency Parking Kiosks
What started out in hospital and retail environments is slowly making its way into newer casino facilities. The kiosk with an intercom, flashing blue light and signs is an additional measure for security in parking lots that is relatively inexpensive in application dependent on wiring restrictions and equipment. The strategic placement of these devices has proven effective in litigation as an additional device provided to customers or employees in the layered security measure process.
What should be considered is where the kiosk communications are wired to and who will answer the intercom or telephone connections. The logical termination point is the security dispatch or command and control location, which can easily dispatch security personnel to the location of the flashing blue light on the activated kiosk. Certain digital CCTV systems can also be programmed to swing a camera to view the location through an automated alarm to document the activity.
With the improvements in LED lighting over the last decade, a casino property can retrofit or install brighter, longer-lasting and more cost-effective lighting over a parking lot or inside of a parking structure. Care should be given when combining lighting with CCTV cameras to maximize visibility and installed equipment.
Lighting is a principle of basic crime prevention, and is a staple for architects when designing parking areas. The older the property, the more difficult the conversion to LED lighting based on existing power and fixtures. The local power company will typically supply a consumer consultant to assist in these conversions. Local ordinances and building codes will provide minimum standards for lighting installation, and brighter illumination is typically above local codes.
A lighting consultant should be used when planning and designing a parking lot or garage lighting plan. In simplistic terms and from a security perspective, footcandles are used for planning. Lighting for detection of persons or activity should be at least 0.5 footcandles, recognition should be at least 1.0 footcandles and identification should be at least 2.0 footcandles. Most jurisdictions require 1.0 footcandles. A parking lot that is too bright may actually violate local ordinances if the casino is adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
Whatever the lighting system deployed, it should be useful, provide adequate illumination of customers and employees and provide sufficient illumination for local police patrolling the perimeters. New casino construction is installing LED lighting in parking areas similar to that found in a new and used car lot to display the optimum visibility. The best example of this is when you fly on a plane at night and look down you see certain lots brightly illuminated as compared to other locations.
In parking structures, the color of the cement walls and ceilings becomes valuable in reflective quality, which enhances the existing lighting deployed. The whiter the interior, the greater the reflective quality. This does increase the temptation for the graffiti artist, yet will prove beneficial overall.
Also important is the quick replacement of burned-out light devices through a contract lighting company or internal reporting. There have been several high-profile lawsuits that involved a light that was out for extended periods of time before a major criminal incident occurred.
Internal and External Review
A meeting and discussion between all the stakeholders at an interval of every three to six months will also prove beneficial in planning security strategy and reducing the risks of crime and incidents. Using the historical data, combined with review of all of the security layers in the environment, will help provide beyond what is reasonable legally and, more importantly, present the best possible security footprint for the property.
Have a Plan
Designate someone to come up with a written plan that is easy to comply with and that assures that all of your designed security measures are in place and being monitored on a regular basis. It is not enough to just do business as usual when incidents are occurring at higher frequencies or become chronic in the parking lots. This article can be used as an outline for the security parking lot plan.
In conclusion, can you evaluate your property parking security plan and be comfortable that if you were called to testify about it, feel able to demonstrate your property did what was reasonable, within the common industry practices and provide that reasonably safe environment?
Do you feel comfortable that any member of your own family can park at your casino without an elevated risk of a crime or incident occurring?