As crime continues to inch upward in Houston, Westchase District is not immune from the problem. Westchase District’s Vice President of Public Safety Mark Hubenak meets daily with property owners and building managers to discuss their particular needs and make recommendations on how to get the most from their public safety efforts.
Many properties employ security officers – either armed or unarmed personnel. “Whether you employ armed officers, unarmed officers, uniformed officers or plain-clothed officers, getting the best use of your security personnel is the most important thing a business owner can do,” said Hubenak. “If your security personnel aren’t visible or they’re sleeping on the job, they’re not benefiting your efforts.”
Hubenak recommends that properties use a “guard tour system” that tracks its officers’ movements through the property. It’s the high-tech, modern version of the old night watchman’s clock, where the property manager designates various locations throughout the property and security personnel use a fob, wand or other electronic device to physically “check in” as they make their rounds throughout the property.
This system is in use at Woodchase Park, where the security officer walks throughout the park during his shift, checking in at various locations with his phone. “These systems can be somewhat pricey,” said Hubenak. “In the case of Woodchase Park, it’s simply an add-on service provided by our security firm, Allied Universal Security. I highly recommend using these systems because they ensure that you’re getting good value from your security personnel.”
Access control goes high tech
After security, the second most expensive upgrade that property managers can make is access control and cameras. When new owners acquired the CityWest Apartment community at 2828 Hayes Road last October, they fixed broken vehicle gates and pedestrian gates and installed a new app that allows residents to access the gates via their smartphone. Community Manager Patti Melendy said the “Gatewise” app means residents no longer keep up with a key fob or remote. Instead, they’re granted access through the gates via their phone. Residents can also admit guests – whether it’s the pizza delivery guy or mom – via a one-time-only access key. Melendy said the technology has even allowed them to grant residents greater access to the community’s amenities. “Previously we limited the gym hours to when the office was open. But with Gatewise, residents can access the fitness center 24 hours a day,” she said.
Melendy also installed high-tech cameras with license plate readers at all vehicle gates. Other cameras are focused on the office, fitness center, pool and pedestrian gates. A monitoring company alerts management to any suspicious activity and, if an incident does occur, Melendy can request the footage which can be turned over the law enforcement to help identify and catch a criminal.
Melendy says the community has also added onsite security and two HPD courtesy officers. All of this came with a price tag, but Melendy said her ownership is supportive of the changes. “Crime doesn’t have an address, but we want to do what we can to minimize it on this property,” Melendy said.
Resident screening is important
An inexpensive way for apartment communities to minimize crime is to improve its resident profile. Melendy has taken the free Blue Star certification class offered by the Houston Police Department. HPD will soon inspect her property, which is the second phase of achieving the property’s Blue Star certification. The Blue Star program requires participating apartment communities to perform criminal background checks on potential residents in addition to credit checks. “We’ve also raised rent and rebranded our community,” said Melendy. The property is now known as 2828 at Royal Oaks. Watch for the Blue Star signage coming soon.
Cameras are now affordable
The Red Roof Inn, 2960 W. Sam Houston Parkway, also found an affordable, high-tech solution to its security concerns. Vagrants repeatedly broke into the hotel’s exterior stairway doors and would loiter inside to sleep and do drugs. Property owner Mahendra Kapadia installed cameras in the stairwells to alert him and his staff to the presence of trespassers. They can see the cameras in real time from their phones and even use the phone to “talk back” to the trespasser and tell them to leave.
Altogether, the hotel installed 48 cameras around the property, both interior and exterior. They upgraded all the exterior lighting to LED fixtures, which makes the parking lot brighter and gives management a clear vision of what they’re seeing at night on the cameras and they keep the trees trimmed so the parking lot is bright with light.
Kapadia has made many improvements to the Red Roof Inn since purchasing the hotel 11 years ago, including adding an exterior fence and onsite security. Kapadia also finds it valuable to regularly communicate with Westchase District Patrol, HPD and SEAL Security.
Low-tech solutions work also
Matt Davis, manager of the Holiday Inn at 10609 Westpark, added Westchase District’s branded “Take/Lock” signs at the property to remind guests to take their belongings and lock their car when parking for any time at the hotel.
“The signs are a nice way to communicate with our guests,” said Davis. “A simple glance communicates the message and the cost is minimal. The signs have virtually eliminated smash & grab thefts in our parking lot.”
Davis has also restricted access to the hotel parking lot through just one entrance. Exterior doors can only be accessed by guests with key cards. And during the overnight hours, all guests must enter through the hotel’s main doors. “Recently, I was chatting with some guests from Fort Worth,” said Davis. “They noted our efforts and appreciated the fact that we take their safety and hotel’s security seriously.”