Social media flashmobs used to vandalize property, plan drag racing: A primer on how to protect your property

You thought your vacant commercial property was secure. Perhaps you were transitioning to a sale or maybe renovating for a new tenant. You locked doors and used outside security lighting to ward off vandals. Then, the local police call you reporting repeated crimes or maybe the building department in some far away state starts issuing violations. Bam, it hits the Internet hard and fast. You see your property on social media. You have gone viral, and not in a good way. Videos of how to break in are being posted and vandals are brazenly photographing themselves inside your facility. Laughing, doing damage, and posting to social media their escapades for everyone to see (and worse, copy). Wait, where was security? You hired guards to prevent this from happening. Despite securing windows and doors, alerting local law enforcement about the vacancy of the building, and employing security guards, social media promoted vandalism was the norm.

CAP was contacted for help

Asked how we could help, Commercial Asset Preservation (CAP) dispatched a local locksmith and general maintenance contractor. Doors were reinforced with L brackets from top to bottom. The entire building was boarded. CAP consulted with local fire officials to make sure the security measures were within fire and safety codes. Often homeless individuals may take up residence in a vacant building. And, there are strict rules about removing vagrants and their personal property. Social services, along with local law enforcement may be needed to clear the grounds. Winter is a particularly challenging time for property owners dealing with the homeless as the desire to gain entrance, away from the elements, is heightened.

LONG BEACH, CA – JUNE 01: After rioters looted, destroyed and burned businesses along Pine Ave. Sunday evening, a worker puts up sheets of plywood over windows of a business while California National Guard members patrol the streets Monday, June 1, 2020 in Long Beach, CA. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

No trespass signs by themselves do not always have the teeth needed to dissuade such attacks. Speaking with CAP’s Maureen Fitisemanu, a Supervisor of Commercial Services, she indicated a stronger deterrent within the law is a no-trespass criminal affidavit paired with the threat of prosecution. This seldom-used section of the penal code is geographically specific and should be discussed with local officials.

Off to the races – on your property

Another property was attracting large crowds to a vacant store, featuring weekends filled with throngs of drag racing youth. To deter and prevent these activities, CAP installed cement barriers, chains, and bollards at entrances and coordinated with local law enforcement to place signs at strategic locations. That action put an end to the congregating youth. This tactic also works to deter overnight parking by long-haul truckers. Another problem that can be solved by blocking property access is the illegal dumping of trash, as well as construction and building materials, a shortcut unscrupulous contractors might take to save disposal fees. Maintaining awareness about the vacant facility is key. CAP contractors routinely visit properties, looking for changing conditions from the prior inspection.

Annoyance as a defense

One of CAP’s clients found themselves dealing with drug users violating the property, sleeping at the facility, and creating large amounts of hazardous trash. One solution used to deter the illegal occupiers is called a Mosquito Anti-Loitering Alarm. Per the website, “Using high-frequency sound, the Mosquito alarm helps to reduce anti-social behavior such as loitering, vandalism, graffiti and violence.” CAP uses specialized alarm vendors to install, operate, and manage these systems.

While the challenges of keeping and protecting your commercial assets are daunting, the tactics and services CAP provides will ensure well-managed, thoroughly documented, and safe properties for the community at large.