Businesses learn methods to deter crime

Environmental design is a cheaper way to keep customers safe, supporters say.
Thursday, August 16, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

COLUMBIA- Eleven years ago, Columbia police Officer Shelley Jones was shot in the chest by a suspect with a shotgun who hid behind trees outside the Gerbes Supermarket entrance on Broadway.

“That wouldn’t have happened if those trees were trimmed and there was better lighting,” Officer Tim Thomason said.

After the shooting, Gerbes removed the trees. Jones survived the shooting, but the incident shed light on an important issue.

Thomason gave a presentation Wednesday aimed at teaching local businesses crime prevention through environmental design, held in the Boone Electric Cooperative Community Room.

The program emphasizes the placement of trees and bushes, walkways, fences, lighting, cameras, building materials and entrances. When a business uses good environmental design, customers feel safer and it deters criminals, Thomason said.

Not only does it prevent crime, but the lawsuits that follow. If a crime is committed on a business’ property, it can be legally held responsible, for damages up to millions of dollars.

Many excuses against implementing good environmental design are no longer relevant.

“Costs for security equipment like cameras have come down in the last decade,” Thomason said. “And most architects in our area know about (environmental design) and are beginning to incorporate its concepts into their new buildings.”

Thomason has made planning recommendations to the city, but so far, an ordinance pertaining to lighting of commercial locations is the only requirement.

Many of the concepts behind design that deter criminals revolve around small investments to prevent crime from happening in the first place. Many trees need to be trimmed from the 3- to 7-foot vertical range for clear visibility, especially trees and bushes near windows and doorways.

“Poor landscaping can hide a rapist,” Thomason said.

“If an area is clean and lit well, you’re gonna have less problems,” said Kevin Purvis of CEP Security.

Purvis’ company does mobile and on-site patrols for vandalism, theft and loitering.

“CPTED definitely helps us do our job and makes a difference,” Purvis said.

Not all problems are related to robberies or similar crimes, but to accidents on the property. Keeping traffic lanes, entrances, exits and pedestrian walkways clear helps prevent many smaller accidents from legally being the fault of the property owner.

Businesses can have the police come and inspect their property to assess its security and what the owners can do to improve its design.

Leslie Robb, administrative assistant for the Northeast Area of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, attended the conference for that very reason.

“We haven’t had any problems yet, but we fear vandalism, and we want to be proactive, not reactive,” Robb said.

The location of their property is in a wooded, secluded place with lots of overgrowth, Robb said.

“We never thought it would apply to us, but we want to best prepare our business, especially as Columbia is expanding nearer to our location,” Robb said.

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