As a result of the recession and slow recovery, an influx of office creepers have been strolling into office buildings, moving confidently through corridors, and stealing portable items – laptops, purses, and other valuables. When they have stolen their fill, they walk calmly out the door and disappear into the crowd – leaving your security compromised and your employees angry.
“This is a situation that has been on the rise in many cities in the wake of the economic downturn,” says Rich Cordivari, vice president of Learning and Development with AlliedBarton Security Services in Conshohocken, PA.
Profile of a Creeper
Most creepers are smart, says Cordivari. “They case the buildings they target, check for security cameras, watch the people as they come and go, dress to blend in, act like they own the place, enter at lunch hour when people are away from their desks, pick up electronic equipment or personal valuables, and leave.”
Thanks to an alert security officer, Philadelphia police recently arrested a creeper who had been working city offices for years. In the hopes of giving security people insight into how creepers think and work, the police invited several security companies to participate in the interview. Cordivari attended on behalf of AlliedBarton.
“He was thoughtful and intelligent,” Cordivari observes. “He said that he could make a decent living walking into any office building.”
Thieves work in groups, explained the Philadelphia creeper. Someone cases the building and figures out the best time to go in, what floors are accessible, and what can be taken. This information comes back to the individual who will go into the building. A smart gang will always send someone who hasn’t been seen in the building before.
To maximize timing, creepers usually enter buildings at lunch, never in the morning when people are at their desks getting ready for the day’s work or after lunch when people are returning to their work space. They might also dress like tenants or a building employee, such as a maintenance tech or janitor, to blend in better.
Savvy creepers don’t worry about getting caught. They don’t steal too much at one time. If they do get caught, it’s just for petty theft. They take their medicine and go back to work.
Creeper gangs also use juveniles under the age of 18 to do some of the dirty work. “The courts will usually kick juveniles loose unless they commit a heinous crime,” says Cordivari.
Thwarting a Creeper
“Sometimes when I walk into a building, I get a bad feeling,” said the Philadelphia creeper. “When that happens, I turn around and walk away.”
What might give an office creeper a bad feeling? Sharp looking and alert security officers.
The Philadelphia creeper told interviewers that he always checked out the security officers. Are they loafing? Reading? On the phone? The creeper would leave when he encountered security officers concentrating on security.
“You can never let your guard down when patrolling a building,” Cordivari says. “Our job is to know who is in the building and what they are doing at any given time. It’s easy to make a polite challenge: ‘May I help you find someone?’ That alerts a person to the fact that you know he or she doesn’t belong.”
AlliedBarton advises tenants against harshly challenging strangers. “You won’t know whether or not the person is armed,” Cordivari says. “It is better to say, ‘May I help you?’ If it’s a creeper, chances are the person will make up a story – ‘I got off the elevator on the wrong floor’ – and walk away. You should pay attention to the person’s appearance and clothing and report the description and the incident to security.”
Tips for Tenants
Good security officers and tenant training can tighten up building security against creepers without making people uncomfortable, but employee awareness is also crucial. Some ideas for tenants from AlliedBarton:
- Politely ask strangers if they need help.
- Never share keys and access codes.
- Don’t leave your keys or ID badges on top of your desk.
- Don’t hide wallets and purses in unlocked drawers or closets – creepers look there first.
- Move coat racks away from the doorway so purses aren’t easy to grab.
- Lock your office when you leave.
- Mute your telephone – creepers listen for phones that go unanswered. It means no one is in that room.
- Lock laptops and other computer equipment to the desk with security cables.
- Inventory the equipment in the office and check the count regularly.
- Etch your name on personal equipment.
While some owners believe access control, visitor management systems, and badging systems can harm tenant relations, AlliedBarton has found the opposite.
“Security officers trained to provide customer service can welcome tenants and visitors to a building in a pleasant way while checking tenant badges and providing badges to visitors,” Cordivari says.
Careful though, you still have to eyeball the badges that strangers use. The Philadelphia creeper used to check out the badges worn in his target buildings and then make his own.