It’s funny how being a victim of a criminal act can change your entire outlook on the world.
Just the other day as I sat quietly in my office working through lunch, a burglar crept in and out of our small 15-person office with such speed and precision that it sent shivers up my spine. In a split second as our receptionist briefly stepped away from the front desk, the burglar was able to sneak in and pilfer through a handful of co-workers’ purses, removing credit cards from each, and get out the door undetected.
Just like a well-timed swoop of a falcon on its prey, this happened just a few steps away from my office door. If it weren’t for one employee noticing that her purse had been moved, each of the victims may not have been able to piece the event together and each may have concluded days later that they lost their credit card elsewhere.
The degree of tenacity and audacity to carry out such a bold theft in an active office setting hints that this wasn’t your average thief of opportunity. Perhaps it was a professional or a person, vendor or repairman who had visited us around lunch time and knew our office patterns. It also opened my eyes to the fact that random act of crime can occur in the comforts of an office environment.
Many of us become too complacent at work, feeling safe and impervious in our own professional surroundings. We can spend an entire lifetime in these settings without ever once feeling an ounce of danger. The fact is that criminal activity often reaches inside to pay us a personal visit and in some cases can even result in a brutal or deadly crime.
With my prior experience catching thieves in a retail environment, I was determined to try to help find clues to help the local police find the perpetrators. I took a look at the local crime map online to research crimes at other establishments within a 500-yard radius. I was shocked at the number and type of criminal complaints over the last year in an area of town many would not suspect.
Vandalism, burglaries, sexual assaults and rapes, and even brutal murders can and do occur in unsuspecting office environments.
The first thing you must understand is that criminals don’t just operate in the so-called “bad” areas of town, nor do they occur in the dead of night. Most burglaries occur between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. in every neighborhood. Those who want to do you harm are opportunists and will search for areas where people have let their guard down.
Many office buildings are places of commerce where strangers and potential criminals can wander about in ease without feeling out of place as they search for opportunities.
As we enter elevators, walk through hallways and head out to the parking lot, criminals and drug addicts looking to support their habits realize that many of us are carrying $1,000- $1,500 in just electronic equipment alone – laptops, cell phones, GPS devises, tablets, iPods, etc.
The most opportune times for these events to occur are early in the morning, lunch time when an office is short-staffed, and then again at closing time when many have gone home and only a handful of employees are left.
When I was employed as a part-time bank teller for the Bank of Lexington in my college days, we were all trained that these were the times to be most concerned for robberies, as we always had pre-determined signals for other employees to look for as they were coming and going from the bank, which indicated if it was safe to enter or not.
Working in an office environment for a number of years it has always concerned me to leave a female colleague all alone in an office, or when I would arrive before or after hours with lone co-workers with the door unlocked. The Internet is littered with stories of sexual assaults and rape in such office settings, so it’s important to not become too comfortable in your office setting.
One of the most high-profile rape cases in New York City back in mid-’80s involved a serial rapist dubbed the Midtown Rapist. He used the constant flow of anonymity of large crowds to blend into the office settings to commit his crimes. His spree of rapes occurred for several weeks in stairwells, elevators and offices in some of Manhattan’s fanciest office towers. His victims included a lawyer in her Park Avenue office building, a bookkeeper running an errand in a low-trafficked stairwell and a secretary carrying documents to another floor several stories up.
Many serial rapists are former burglars and they all look to commit their crimes in comfort zones that make them feel safe enough to carry out their attack without detection. Many will map out their attack well in advance, watching and assessing the patterns of their potential victims and looking to see if doors are left unlocked and if keys are used. Office buildings offer up all of these comfort zones and these serial assailants search for that brief moment of vulnerability when you are by yourself, tired and distracted. We should never ever let our guard down.
To avoid becoming victim of crime in your office, let me suggest following these simple steps:
• Always secure your front entrances and avoid working all alone early or after hours.
• Make sure your employer controls access of strangers, layering the physical security in the office settings. The more layers of security and detection devices you have, the less likely you will become a victim.
• Vet your vendors and repairmen and limit their access throughout the office.
• Avoid secluded areas and ask a co-worker to escort you to your car after-hours; avoid leaving by yourself.
• Change your patterns of travel and times or arrival and departure as you come and go from your office.
• Remain alert and undistracted as you are walking in and out of your office; make note of any person who doesn’t appear to belong or may be watching your patterns.
• Prior to entering a secluded area scan the area for potential attackers; and turn and head the other way if you are uncertain. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
• Keep your cell phone handy and be prepared to call 911.
• Consider carrying a defensive weapon, but make sure that you become familiar and properly trained with whatever weapon you choose.
Since our incident several weeks ago, we have taken a very serious look at our office security and have taken the necessary steps to better secure our employees and our office. We serve as proof that such acts of criminal activity can occur just about anywhere, including an insurance agency office.
Insurance is there to protect you, but there isn’t any form of insurance that can indemnify you from a sexual assault. Remember, only the alert and safest survive; you must make every effort to avoid becoming a victim. Arm yourself with the knowledge and the habits to protect yourself.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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