As Captain David Spiller stepped into his new post as the city's police chief in early May, he reinforced his commitment to "sustaining Pleasanton's quality of life by ensuring the safety of our community and continuing the department's collaboration with residents, the business community, and our school district."
Pleasanton continues to uphold its reputation as a safe community. Even in a pinched economy, the statistics are impressive. According to the city's annual report, in 2010 the Pleasanton Police Department (PPD) had an outstanding clearance rate of 39 percent for major crimes, as compared to the national average of roughly 21 percent. "We measure how we're doing by the clearance rate, solving the crime," relates Ken McNeill (right), the PPD's Crime Prevention Officer.
McNeill credits this accomplishment to a very supportive community. "People in Pleasanton are very involved in working with the police. They are not hesitant to call us when they see something suspicious, and we encourage that. We can't be everywhere at once, so we need them to be our eyes and ears, and they rely on us to respond when they call."
For businesses, that means taking a proactive approach, similar to the Neighborhood Watch programs in effect in the city's residential areas. Many of the safety principles revolve around awareness and common sense. "People do get lax in paying attention to their surroundings," McNeill notes, offering several reminders about things they can do to keep themselves safe.
One of the PPD's primary messages is that criminals like easy targets. They gravitate towards inviting situations - an unlocked door, untrimmed bushes that make a good hiding place, a laptop lying on the seat of a car. The idea is to prevent such opportunities from arising.
"The most frequent crime we see in Pleasanton, and probably throughout the Tri-Valley, is auto burglary," McNeill reports. "A lot of these are crimes of opportunity. People leave items of value in the car in plain sight, and it only takes a few seconds to break the window, grab the item, and go."
McNeill recommends getting in the habit of removing valuables when leaving a parked car. Packages, backpacks, and computer bags should either be stored in the trunk or brought inside. "If people took the time to put their possessions away, we could eliminate a high percentage of the city's crime."
Another prevention strategy is to be sensitive to things that appear out of place. Police and security officers are constantly looking for the unusual while they are out on patrol, but the public needs to be watchful as well.
"The people who are apt to recognize what's out of the ordinary most quickly are the ones who are in the same place every day," he comments.
This caution applies to individuals as well as things. "We have people who portray themselves as employees of a business. They might piggyback with someone else going in a door." When they get into an office, they go looking for the cell phone sitting on the desk, the purse that hasn't been put away.
"If you see someone who doesn't look like he belongs in the workplace, call him on it," McNeill advises. He is not referring to confrontation. A friendly "Hey, can I help?" is enough to let the stranger know that he has been seen.
"We are not asking the public to put themselves in harm's way. If you feel like you are, call us, but criminals are discouraged when they lose the protection of anonymity."
Businesses can add a few extra layers of protection to avoid unwanted or unexpected visitors. For example, a buzzer on the front door alerts workers that someone has entered the office. They can then come out and greet the new arrival, making sure there is a valid reason for being on the premises.
McNeill also suggests issuing ID badges to visitors. "Then if you see someone unfamiliar who does not have one, you can simply ask if they need help." Being singled out creates a deterrent that makes potential criminals realize they cannot pass unnoticed.
If potential wrongdoers are successful in gaining access to a business, one or several obstacles can slow them down. Complexity and difficulty inhibit crime. For example, time-lock safes are effective because there is a delay after the combination has been entered and before the door opens. Thieves do not like to linger.
"Every obstacle prolongs the time the bad guys have to spend trying to commit their crime. The longer it takes, the less likely they are to stick around," McNeill notes.
He recommends installing an alarm system, or even better, video surveillance, and making it known to the general public. "Advertise in the front window that your business is equipped with these security features. Criminals pay attention to such messages, and they'll go look for an easier target somewhere else."
Retail businesses and restaurants that handle large amounts of cash should have a written cash management policy. "The important thing with cash is to minimize exposure," says McNeill. Once there is a specified amount in the cash drawer, transfer it all to the safe. "That way, you won't lose a whole day's receipts in a robbery. Vary the time of day when bank deposits are made, and don't take the same route every trip," he continues.
McNeill emphasizes that visibility equals protection. When putting posters or signs in the windows, make sure they are placed so they don't obscure the view, either in or out. "In the workplace we advise keeping front and side windows clear, so people walking by can see in to observe if there is anything inappropriate happening," he says. At the same time, in an office building where people leave at night, it is a good idea to shut the blinds. "Don't advertise what you have inside," McNeill cautions. On the other hand, if the business is a restaurant or late night retail store, cash registers should be in plain sight toward the front so any unseemly activity will likely be noticed.
Lighting is a strong deterrent. Business owners should conduct periodic checks to make sure all night-time fixtures - including those in the parking lot-are in working order. Landscaping around the building exterior should be trimmed back to eliminate potential hiding places.
"All these little things add up," says McNeill. "The criminal ultimately concludes, 'it's too exposed, the lights are too bright, windows are open and people might see me, so I might as well move on.'"
While violent crime is infrequent in Pleasanton, the presence of a disgruntled employee or unwelcome individual can make the workplace uncomfortable. McNeill reminds businesses that the PPD is available to provide support. "If there's an issue or the possibility of a disturbance, through a firing, for example, we can come out and stand by, making sure to keep the peace," he says. Officers can also explain the steps to obtain a restraining order.
Pleasanton does have a S.W.A.T. team; fortunately, deployments are infrequent, but "should it ever be necessary, it is just a few phone calls away," McNeill points out, adding, "More and more patrol officers are being trained to respond immediately to situations that may involve violence." Those capabilities give the department more latitude in formulating an emergency response.
Once again, he underlines the importance of the initial call to the police department. "We can't be proactive if we don't know about something bad that might be happening. That's the most important thing. It's no harm, no foul if there's no crime."
Officer McNeill and his partner, Community Service Officer Shannon Revel-Whitaker, are both available to visit Hacienda businesses to talk about the various aspects of crime prevention. They can conduct site surveys, walking through the facility with the business or property owner and suggesting safety improvements following the recommendations detailed above and below. They can also address vulnerabilities like Internet crimes, phishing, and identity theft. There is no charge for these services. Contact McNeill directly at (925) 931-5233, or Revel-Whitaker at (925) 931-5240.
Officer McNeill suggests these additional measures to keep the workplace safe:
As part of the effort to become more security-minded, businesses need to consider emergency preparedness. A comprehensive article about emergency preparedness in the Tri-Valley appeared in the September 2010 issue of NETWORK. Find a copy at www.hacienda.org/ho/nw1009_LPFD.html .
The Pleasanton Police Department offers this refresher on personal safety:
Hacienda Security handles day-to-day security within the park. Officers are on high-visibility patrol 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Their presence is one of the best deterrents to crime, accidents, vandalism, and malicious mischief.
Hacienda Security can be reached by phone or email around the clock. Use either the voicemail/paging system at (925) 734-6520, or send an e-mail to email@example.com . Find a complete description of Hacienda's Security program at www.hacienda.org/services/services_security .
Also in this issue ...