Posts

Millions of Canadians took to the streets this past week in a ‘strike’ to protest and raise awareness around climate change. Some retailers—in particular those espousing environmentally-conscious values and business models—even closed their stores for a day in support. It’s reasonable to assume that at least a handful of those placard-carrying, green-minded citizens are concerned about the spillover security implications of warming temperatures and rising waters, such as the mass migration of people due to extreme weather events. What they probably don’t realize is just how close to home those impacts could be. It’s a cautionary note that commercial property owners and managers would be wise to heed, as well.

Because climate change is a concern for everyone, even those in the business community whose organizations are unlikely to be directly impacted by the planet’s fast-changing weather patterns.

Consider the torrential downpour last year  that inundated much of Toronto’s downtown core. The deluge was so swift that two men became trapped in a basement elevator at their workplace.

Water flooded into the basement after they boarded the lift (which, unbeknownst to them, was out of service) and quickly rose to more than six feet. The men had only minutes to spare before the water level in the elevator cleared their heads. They were soon rescued by police who swam to the basement and used a crowbar to pry open a passage large enough for them to escape. No one was seriously injured in the incident.

Extreme weather events are the new norm

While this was an unusually dire situation—it’s not every day that someone almost drowns in an elevator—Canadians should be prepared to manage the side-effects of increasingly severe weather. In fact, political leaders are already beginning to prepare us for the potential challenges that lie ahead. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted in a speech earlier this year after major flooding ravaged parts of Quebec:

“ … with climate change, we’re going to see more and more of these extreme weather events more regularly. It means we have to think about adaptation, mitigation and how we’re going to move forward together.”

That means we can expect more intense rain, snow, wind and ice than ever before. In his comments, the PM was merely echoing findings of Canada’s Changing Climate Report released earlier this year. It issued several dire warnings, including that:

“A warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes in the future. Extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks. While inland flooding results from multiple factors, more intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks. It is uncertain how warmer temperatures and smaller snow packs will combine to affect the frequency and magnitude of snowmelt-related flooding.” 

Climate change-related risks and security challenges

Unpredictable weather creates a variety of risks, legal liabilities and security exposures for organizations. While not all will be life-threatening, many will apply pressure to already strained balance sheets. Indeed, some of those risks will be more benign, yet no less costly or disruptive to manage.

We’re aware of companies that have watched helplessly as large amounts of inventory or critical IT infrastructure such as computer servers, became submerged under water in a matter of minutes as a result of historically heavy rainfalls. The ensuing business interruption cost them time, money and, in some cases, even goodwill with customers as they scrambled to recover data or deliver goods and services as promised. Others have seen their offices or manufacturing facilities damaged by high winds.

While not a realistic concern in the Greater Toronto Area, extreme heat can spark infernos that can impair regular commerce—think of the fires that raged across the Prairies in recent summers, prompting widespread evacuations in cities such as Fort McMurray.

Security’s role in addressing climate-related incidents

At some point during any climate-related incident, your security team will likely be called upon to help manage the situation. That could be to protect a damaged facility as it awaits repair and to ensure that no one enters the premises if conditions are unsafe; or to help muster employees if the issue happens to be particularly dangerous and relocation to a secure site becomes necessary. This is precisely why organizations need to be equipped with effective emergency preparedness disaster response plans.

Perhaps most importantly, they need to work with their internal security teams or third-party security providers to conduct a comprehensive assessment that analyzes absolutely every potential weather-related risk exposure. Doing so will not only help protect your bottom line and mitigate the threat of lawsuits or brand damage for a botched incident response, but could also save lives.

Employees must be trained to respond to an emergency, particularly if your business happens to be situated in an area prone to major weather events. And if not, you still need to be ready to adapt as climate patterns continue to shift. Even a seemingly pleasant heat wave—while great for patio and beach season—can put a damper on everything from morale to productivity if it’s particularly intense or sustained. Skyrocketing temperatures can quickly produce health-related challenges (think sun stroke or heat exhaustion) to which your security team might be the first to respond.

In doing so, they need to be ready to act. In fact, we all do, because climate change is an unfortunate fact of life that we’ll need to manage in the years ahead. It’s only by adapting—and taking a security-first approach—that we can proactively mitigate its many risks.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

When news broke recently that the Swedish Data Protection Authority fined a local municipality more than USD $20,000 for privacy violations, it marked the emergence of a potential new front in the struggle to balance privacy rights and security requirements.

Under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—sweeping legislation that governs everything from website tracking to data collection practices across the 28-member European Union and European Economic Area—the use of data gathered with the help of facial recognition and biometric software is restricted and tightly controlled. Apparently a school board in Sweden didn’t get the memo and used facial recognition software to track high school student attendance over a three-week trial period intended to test out new technology.

The school board saw the tracking software as a more efficient use of teacher’s classroom time. According to media reports, attendance-conscious educators had apparently been devoting about 17,000 hours a year to keeping tabs on their pupils. The SDPA saw the matter differently and issued the significant fine, a first for Sweden.

Tech as a security tool, but to what end? 

The European Union has taken the lead in legislating to secure privacy rights and protect citizens, just as authorities in other regions have turned to cutting-edge new technology designed to enhance protection measures for the general public. In the wake of recent shootings in Toronto, for example, the city’s community housing agency has announced plans to increase video surveillance in at-risk neighbourhoods, all to help deter crime and aid police enforcement efforts. In the United Kingdom, cities such as London have long relied on street-level surveillance to maintain safety. The U.S. government has been using biometric technology, including the fingerprinting of foreign visitors, at border crossings for years.

The challenge that arises, of course, is when governments abuse these tools. China has faced widespread criticism for its use of facial recognition and data collection programs in its western provinces to track the local Uyghur community. In other parts of the country, Beijing actively uses technology to help silence or monitor anti-government voices. Many liken the tactics to an Orwellian invasion of privacy, an effort to enforce government-sanctioned values on an unassuming populace.

If a school board in Sweden uses facial recognition technology to track students, some argue, it’s not far-fetched to expect a more widespread application of that software across society. In the hands of a trusted few there isn’t much concern. But what happens if those individuals can no longer be trusted?

Legal systems adapting to new technology 

The reality is the use of technology as a protective tool is hardly novel and, in most cases, isn’t nearly as sinister as some may contend. The big question, as with the example from Sweden, is to what degree governments will tolerate its use. Authorities in Canada are beginning to weigh in on the safety and security vs. privacy debate.

In Ontario, for example, a labour arbitrator recently ruled in Teamsters Local Union No. 230 v Innocon Inc., that a concrete delivery company (Innocon) had the right to install cameras in its trucks to help improve driver safety and highlight potential driver misconduct by recording a driver’s actions, but only in the event that the vehicle swerved unexpectedly or took some form of evasive action that could indicate erroneous or erratic driving. In the arbitrator’s view, some level of in-cab monitoring was justified because an employer’s business interests can supersede an employee’s right to privacy under specific circumstances.

Security strategies for business

Business owners should be aware that at any point, our legal landscape could shift and new laws could limit the use of biometric or facial technology when used in public spaces or workplaces. But I predict that governments will take a measured approach to balancing privacy and security concerns. It’s likely that we will see a tightening of privacy restrictions in Ontario and across Canada at some point. In the meantime, however, your focus should be on assessing your organization’s security vulnerabilities and taking an integrated approach to protecting your people and assets.

That means reviewing the plethora of tech tools available on the market and deciding which ones make sense for your organization based on its operational needs. Facial recognition technology may make sense for a retailer with several busy locations, for example, but could provide little benefit to a software development firm with much simpler security needs. Be prepared to customize your strategy and invest in security components that will make a decided impact in helping mitigate risk and advancing your organization’s strategic goals (e.g., not being robbed, having your data held hostage or seeing your commercial property or workplace invaded).

But first, take the time to understand your jurisdiction’s privacy laws. Make sure your security strategy doesn’t violate any rules when the time comes to implement cutting-edge—yet potentially controversial—security technology.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

A long weekend of shootings that saw 17 people injured in 14 separate incidents over the recent civic holiday sent chills across our city. Even Toronto Police Service Chief Mark Saunders was quick to acknowledge both the unusually high wounded toll, the sheer number of security-related incidents and the brazenness with which the alleged assailants acted.

Residents wonder when it will all end, and how to stay safe in the meantime.

Three suspects have since been arrested in connection with several of the shootings. Saunders told reporters that additional resources would be deployed “in specific places that we think will help deter and reduce the gun violence that’s occurring in the city right now.”

Gun crime on the rise

What we need to keep in perspective—as was the case after the van attack in North York last year that saw 10 people killed when a disturbed young man ran down people at random on Yonge Street—is that Toronto is still a remarkably safe city. Our crime rate is low and the threat of becoming a victim of violent crime is scant.

Still, gun violence has been on the rise in recent years and that requires a certain level of vigilance, particularly in vulnerable or lower-income areas where gangs and other troublesome actors tend to spend most of their time.

According to police statistics, Toronto experienced two and a half times more shootings in 2018 than 2014—a shocking increase that should give us all pause.

New security measures

One of the recent deaths—that of a 16-year-old—came in a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) complex in the city’s north end. According to a CBC report, that prompted a promise for action on the part of the housing agency:

“… TCH chief executive officer Kevin Marshman [promised] to do more to address what some residents have decried as a woeful lack of security at their buildings.

Starting in September, said Marshman, full-time security officers will be stationed in the Jane and Fallstaff community. Also coming, he said, is enhanced lighting around the buildings and cameras on the roadways coming in and out of the complex that can capture licence plates.

Marshman added that TCH also hopes to conduct a community safety audit — a joint effort with police and residents to physically walk around the properties to identify gaps in security and what needs to be done to make things safer.”

While we can all applaud TCH’s commitment to taking action, a bigger question remains unanswered: Why weren’t these measures implemented years ago? Why has it taken a rise in gun crime and the death of a child to empower a public agency to protect its residents?

A trend towards enhanced security 

That question may never be fully answered, but Marshman’s statements are likely indicative of a new trend that we will—and likely should—see emerging across our city: a stronger security presence, particularly in vulnerable communities.

We need more foot patrols to protect private and public spaces, and in many cases that will require the involvement of private security partners given the already stretched resources of the Toronto Police Service. It will likely mean more camera surveillance using artificial intelligence and facial recognition software to recognize bad actors before or after they commit crimes. We need better lighting to protect paths and parks, and greater community cooperation similar to the walk-safe programs that university campuses have implemented and maintained for years with widespread success.

In the wake of the recent spate of violence, many of Canada’s mayors are calling for either an all-out handgun ban or stronger restrictions on handgun ownership—a move that many chiefs of police across the country also support. This would undoubtedly help address the issue, but it may not be enough. As police budgets are cut in many jurisdictions, those crucial eyes and ears on the ground are lost. Again, this is where private security firms and technology can help fill the gap. But employing their services requires an increased budgetary spend and a willingness to stand behind important policy changes.

Will our leaders at the federal, provincial and municipal levels heed the call? Or will they make relatively tiny security commitments that seem meaningful, but fail to create a long-term impact in our communities?

Balancing security with civil liberties will be a challenge 

In the end, we want to keep our city free and comfortable and avoid it taking on the feel of a surveillance state. But we also want to ensure that all Torontonians feel safe to go about their business. Exactly how we accomplish the goal remains to be seen, but we can rest assured that it will take creative, innovative thinking to curb the latest ‘summer of the gun’ and restore a greater sense of safety and security to Canada’s largest city.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.

It may be time to start paying attention.

As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.

A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants

Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.

The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.

As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.

Looking at elevator performance through a security lens

Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.

Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.

Security training is essential

Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.

At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

For risk averse commercial property owners, managers and condominium managers—not to mention any company that has employees—unaware of the general duty clause contained in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), now is the time to get educated.

The principle behind the clause is simple. The Act states that employers must “take every precaution reasonable for the protection of a worker …” The measure is intended to ensure that organizations don’t cut corners to lower costs in areas such as workplace safety, thereby putting individuals at risk of injury—or worse.

But an Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Ontario (Labour) v. Quinton Steel (Wellington) Limited, 2017, greatly broadened that concept, and should give property owners and managers pause. Now, basic compliance with the Act is likely no longer enough to satisfy the general duty test—a development that vastly increases prosecution exposures. It forces employers to analyze risk at all levels and take enhanced precautions that could far exceed legislated minimums.

Workplace liability exposures on the rise

In the Quinton Steel case, an employee died after falling from a two-metre platform. The welder who fell was not required to tie off at that height, nor did OHSA standards deem it necessary to install a guardrail across the platform on which he was working. A lower court dismissed charges against the firm, until an Appeal Court judge overturned that earlier decision.

In his ruling, the Appeal Court judge explained:

“… Prescriptive certainty is not required in the context of regulatory offences such as s. 25(2)(h) [of the OHSA]. That section establishes a standard, rather than a rule, the requirements of which are tailored to suit particular circumstances. Employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances in order to protect workers. Reasonableness is a well-known legal concept that is interpreted and applied in a wide variety of legal contexts. Its use in s 25(2)(h) does not give rise to intolerable uncertainty. 

“It may not be possible for all risk to be eliminated from a workplace … but it does not follow that employers need do only as little as is specifically prescribed in the regulations. There may be cases in which more is required – in which additional safety precautions tailored to fit the distinctive nature of a workplace are reasonably required … in order to protect workers.”

In other words, even though the employer didn’t have to use a guard rail or require its employees to tie off at the height from which the welder fell, the judge’s ruling indicates that management should have identified the risks and acted above and beyond those minimal legislative requirements.

This means that as a commercial property owner or manager, anyone working on or around your commercial property is effectively the liability of your organization; their safety in the workplace is of the utmost importance and cannot be ignored. In 2017, the government boosted OHSA non-compliance fines to $100,000 from $25,000 for an individual or unincorporated business, and to $1.5 million from $500,000 for corporations—further underscoring organizations’ impetus to comply.

 Leveraging security expertise to mitigate legal risk

As you read this you may be wondering: why is a security firm working to educate its readers about a relatively obscure, albeit highly significant, legal consideration? Because your organization’s security team—whether staffed by in-house employees or outsourced to a company such as Wincon Security—can be a first line of defense in highlighting potential risk exposures.

The first step in our comprehensive client onboarding process, for example, involves a thorough property risk assessment. It isn’t simply meant to highlight potential security issues such as outdated camera systems or inadequate card access technology. It’s also intended to alert property owners and managers to other challenges that could result in fines or lawsuits. Our guards are not only trained to be on the lookout for potential risk areas during that initial assessment, but throughout the entirety of our client engagements.

 Adequate security training is crucial

In many cases our team will recommend one of our integrated solutions such as HD surveillance cameras, not only to monitor a property, but to also provide a record of events should an incident occur that could lead to litigation. At the same time, our guards prepare daily reports (in addition to specific incident reports) designed to proactively flag risk areas. Let’s say you have contractors renovating your property and our guards see them acting unsafely, perhaps ignoring safety procedures such as tying off at heights, or engaging in any other form of unsafe conduct. They won’t hesitate to bring the issue to a supervisor’s attention, who will then follow our incident response process and put it firmly on your risk-mitigation radar.

Because the courts have made it clear that organizations need to take every reasonable precaution—and then some—to prevent accidents and assume that risks may exist virtually everywhere, our clients need all hands on deck to mitigate the threat of prosecution. A well-trained security team can fulfill that role, but it’s incumbent on property owners to ensure they choose the right firm to protect their interests. Not every security provider has the training processes in place to ensure their people go above and beyond the call of duty.

Take the time to vet several security companies and choose wisely. Doing so could save you time and stress—and enormous amounts of money—fighting a case in court if an accident occurs on the premises of your commercial property, retail outlet or condominium.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

Retailers are always enamored over the holidays—malls and streets jammed with eager shoppers, cash registers ringing (or the similarly lucrative sounds of electronic sales racking up) and merchandise flying off shelves before Santa’s arrival. What’s not to love?

The lump of coal in most retailers’ stockings is the inevitable occurrence of shoplifting, which tends to spike during the festive season. Each year organizations go to great lengths to minimize shrinkage through everything from hiring extra theft-prevention staff to installing high-tech monitoring tools. High-definition cameras, the presence of trained security personnel, adding signage to deter would-be thieves and understanding your clientele—and who doesn’t fit in, while resisting the temptation to profile potential malfeasants—are all practical tactics to help mitigate the financial impact of the more than $3 billion in retail shrinkage that affects Canadian organizations each year.

But there are two largely overlooked—some might say unexpected—areas where our team begins any conversation around curbing retail theft: employee engagement and customer service.

A counterintuitive strategy

At Wincon Security, we help retailers develop comprehensive theft-mitigation strategies that include the tools mentioned above—and far more—when we develop a customized anti-theft checklist suited to your organization’s specific needs. But we also ask several business-focused questions that take that discussion to another level. The first centres around metrics such as employee turnover.

Why? Because it’s one indicator of lackluster engagement. The more workers that abandon their employer at a high frequency, the likelier they are to engage in criminal behaviour such as stealing merchandise. Despite what most retailers believe, internal shrinkage is an even greater risk than external theft. Even though many stores will inspect employee bags before leaving the premises, the fact is that employees determined to remove goods from a store can usually do so with relative ease. Yes, surveillance helps, but only to confirm when a theft has occurred.

Prevention requires a much more proactive approach.

Think culture first

We advise retailers to focus on building stronger relationships with their workers, including part-time holiday staff, and consider implementing employee-friendly measures. That can range from bumping pay rates to slightly above industry standard and improving training programs, to simple tactics such as offering recognition for a job well done or throwing team-building events. The goal is to give employees a sense of ownership and to tie them closer to the organization. Happy employees are far less likely to lift merchandise than their disgruntled colleagues.

Taking service to the next level

When it comes to providing better customer service, many organizations think that means training staff to approach all customers once they enter a store, asking them if they need help and then keeping an eye open for suspicious behaviour. These are all perfectly-appropriate techniques that do help minimize theft. But retailers—particularly those catering to luxury clientele—need to do more. They need to provide great service.

That means engaging with customers, determining their needs, being present when they try on clothing or as they test merchandise, guiding them through the purchase cycle with information about the good or service on which they’re considering spending their hard-earned dollars, and making them feel truly special. Deepening that engagement, perhaps by offering to enter customers into your store’s database to provide better service in future, or to help keep them up-to-date on new promotions, sends a message that your relationship is more than transactional. It’s about working together to satisfy their unique retail needs over the long haul.

On the security front, providing high-touch service sends another message: we’re on the lookout for potential thieves and we will catch those who try to leave our store without paying for merchandise. It also shifts the focus from providing what some might consider to be harassing service—when a salesperson follows you around the store and won’t allow you to browse in peace—to adding value by helping them achieve their shopping goals. That could mean presenting them with interesting alternative options, such as a different style garment or a different model of electronic device, for example.

Now, you may be wondering why a security firm is providing advice on the HR and sales front. Because smart, forward-thinking security requires a holistic perspective. We’re happy to sell retailers our integrated security services, but we know through both empirical data and experience that they’re far more effective when our clients take a 360-degree view of their security needs.

Doing it the right way means looking beyond the obvious, and finding positive ways to thwart would-be thieves.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

‘Tis the season for spending time with family and friends and the inevitable yuletide spree of shopping and gift-giving. Suburban malls and high-street stores are jammed in the lead-up to the holidays, as Torontonians make a final festive retail push before taking a breather and preparing for Boxing Week bargain bonanzas.

Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when busy retailers must contend with wide-scale theft. Statistics show that Canadian businesses lose more than $3 billion annually to crime, including both internal (e.g., employee) and external shoplifting that eats into profits and compromises retailers’ competitiveness. Rather than tackling the problem head-on, a new Toronto Police Service pilot project is moving in a very different direction.

Toronto Police Service introduces Stop Theft 

First-time shoplifters caught pilfering items within the boundaries of the city’s 51 and 52 divisions will no longer be prosecuted under the six-month Stop Theft program, an initiative that will permit private security and theft-prevention guards to effectively catch and release shoplifters after documenting their personal details, then providing them to officers at one of the two divisions participating in the program. The Toronto Police Service’s aim is to free police resources to deal with higher-priority calls.

Non-violent shoplifters who are 18 years of age or older with identification and who are accused of stealing merchandise totaling less than $1,000, are eligible for release. Police will still attend the scene if requested and reserve the right to lay charges by summons in future, depending on the circumstances.

“What we’ve been trying to do through the modernization process is make sure that our police officers are where the public needs them the most,” Meaghan Gray, acting director of corporate communications for the Toronto Police Service, told the Toronto Star. “And maybe responding to … shoplifting calls — that can be held just as efficiently by a theft prevention officer partnered with us over the phone — allows us to reassign those officers to more pressing calls for service.”

While the efforts of police to more effectively utilize their officers’ time is laudable, the bigger challenge for retailers can be summed up in a statement last year from Diane J. Brisebois, President and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada: “It is estimated that retailers lose more than

$8 million a day to store theft. What is more worrisome, however, is that today’s thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated, therefore posing an even greater risk to the health and safety of the Canadian public.”

Removing a theft deterrent

Indeed, the major challenge with the Stop Theft program is that it assumes that shoplifting is limited to individuals such as thrill-seeking teens and those with mental health issues. The reality is that organized crime groups are behind much of the bottom-line killing losses plaguing retailers at all levels. Products such as razor blades and baby formula—the latter used to mask drug trafficking, or sold for a hefty profit on the black market—are two products that have long been a prime retail target for organized crime.

A program such as this removes the most important deterrent to shoplifting—immediate arrest and the threat of significant prosecution. It will be an especially major problem in less-prosperous areas already dealing with high rates of both minor and major crimes.

Retailers will need to continue to invest more in loss-prevention tactics, including the use of civil demand recovery letters, which allow them to sue alleged shoplifters in civil court to recoup the cost of a stolen or damaged item, not to mention costs relating to security patrol and enforcement. It’s safe to assume that overwhelmed police won’t have the time to follow up with an accused shoplifter after an incident, even if the person has a criminal record.

Why? Cash-strapped, budget-conscious police services simply lack the time and money to continue to pursue low-level crimes as they once did. The unfortunate reality is that retailers will pay the price and will need to pursue punitive litigation in an effort to deter would-be thieves—itself a potentially costly process.

Programs such as Stop Theft are designed to modernize the response to some crimes, but in doing so they tend to sow chaos and return us to a time when low-level crime was rampant. Now, unfortunately, shopkeepers need to be more vigilant than ever, treating every customer as a potential shoplifter, which is always bad for business.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

In September, Toronto police announced a major change to their burglar alarm response policy. Specifically, they made it clear that they would no longer respond to alarms unless there was verified proof that some form of criminal activity or a threat to an individual was occurring at the time of the notification.

Up to that point, police would always send a car to any commercial or residential property where an alarm was sounded. Better to be safe than sorry, the thinking went. According to their revised guidelines, police will now only respond to an alarm if a threat can be verified by an audio or video device, there are multiple zone activations in effect—which are typical in the case of a break-and-enter with multiple burglars at the crime scene—or they have an eyewitness on the scene calling in the incident. This could include a private security guard.

Toronto police will still attend verifiable alarm calls

Why the change? Police data from 2016 show that 97 per cent of security system-related calls were false alarms. “When a panic alarm button is hit, we will absolutely attend,” a police spokesperson told media “Also, if we get evidence there has been a burglary, we will also attend that call too.” Really? It’s reassuring to know that the police will attend actual crimes. Needless to say, this new policy raises several red flags to those of us in the security field. The most obvious being that some break-ins could foreseeably go unchecked because authorities deem them to be false alarms, or because their slow response allows criminals to come and go without the risk of apprehension.

To help prevent those false alarms, police are advising home owners and commercial property managers to update key holder information, ensure regular alarm system maintenance, change alarm batteries frequently, keep alarms free of dust and debris and educate residents, tenants and employees on system operation protocols.

While the policy change is understandable—having police respond to a plethora of false alarms is, of course, a costly and inefficient use of resources—it discounts the possibility that actual crimes may be in progress, with verification coming only when it’s too late. Criminals, being a clever lot, will undoubtedly use these new rules to their advantage if they know police aren’t going to respond when a standalone alarm is sounded.

Robust security is more important than ever

Most importantly, this underscores the need to maintain 24/7 protection for commercial or residential properties. That means having an active security presence and state-of-the-art monitoring systems—or, at the very least, one of those two crucial components—in place to build out a comprehensive security strategy to protect your assets. With these new rules governing what, exactly, justifies a live police response, investing in adequate security is no longer an option for commercial property or residential property owners, and that includes condominium boards.

As such, most organizations will need to re-evaluate their current alarm systems. Is it enough, or do they now need new cameras? Do those cameras need to be monitored by a security service in order to verify alarm issues? Manufacturers, integrators, monitoring centres and the end users need to answer these questions or risk being left behind by these new requirements.

Expect traditional police duties to be increasingly outsourced

Another notable aspect of development is that it highlights an emerging trend across North America: the outsourcing of police duties to private security providers. An important line in the Toronto Police Service’s policy change was the one noting that eyewitness verification of a security breach would warrant an on-site visit from police. The fact that the eyewitness could be a security guard means that police understand—and perhaps even welcome—the involvement of private security firms.

We can expect to see an even greater willingness on the part of the authorities to accept third-party security help in the years ahead as police budgets are slashed or frozen, and resources are redirected to priority areas. The challenge for commercial property owners is that investigating issues such as potential break-ins or vandalism—although obviously well within the mandate of local police services—often take a back seat to the prevention or investigation of violent crimes or other, more serious offences.

Choosing the right security provider is key

Now, it’s important to remember that not only does your organization need security help to keep its assets and people safe, it needs to partner with the right security provider, one that takes an integrated approach and provides effective training to its staff. The trend of downloading security duties to private companies shines a spotlight on the processes and procedures that security firms develop and follow. How well trained are their staff? What are their employee retention rates? Is their HR department fronted by a proverbial revolving door as people come and go looking for a job rather than a career? The maturity and sophistication of firms across our industry is now under greater scrutiny than ever before.

So, too, are service providers’ embrace of technology. Everything from drones to patrol robots to leading-edge software and video camera systems are the kind of tools that will become increasingly important in the years ahead. Criminals are always getting smarter. They will find ways to circumvent even the most advanced electronics. Is your security provider equipped to keep pace?

In one sense the Toronto Police Service’s alarm response policy change has a silver lining. Over time, a greater reliance on reliable private security providers will help push out the fringe players from our industry whose inadequate services put clients at greater risk. Because when police won’t respond without knowing that a crime is in progress, there’s simply too much at stake to put your commercial or residential property and assets in the hands of an unprofessional security firm.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

Ontario business owners who spent the last week celebrating the tabling of Bill 47, legislation that promises to repeal most of the controversial Bill 148 (with the implementation of the equally unpopular Pay Transparency Act also due to be delayed and revised, as well), could be forgiven for missing the enactment of another important new law. Only this one comes with significant cyber and physical security implications for organizations across industries.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is new federal legislation that “applies to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information in the course of a commercial activity.” Put simply, if yours is an organization that has clients to whom it sells products or services, it falls under the Act’s jurisdiction. Exemptions exist in provinces that have privacy legislation in line with PIPEDA, but in those cases provincial laws need to be almost identical to the federal counterpart, or else the latter applies. What does this all mean? According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

“Organizations covered by PIPEDA must obtain an individual’s consent when they collect, use or disclose that individual’s personal information. People have the right to access their personal information held by an organization. They also have the right to challenge its accuracy. Personal information can only be used for the purposes for which it was collected. If an organization is going to use it for another purpose, they must obtain consent again. Individuals should also be assured that their information will be protected by appropriate safeguards.”

New disclosure requirements

Perhaps most importantly, the legislation requires Canadian firms to brief customers in the event of a data breach that involves the hacking of personal information. At the same time, organizations must inform the Privacy Commission if they believe the breach carries with it “a real risk of significant harm to an individual.” The language in the new law is notably vague and unspecific. Organizations are required to have “appropriate” digital safeguards in place, even when sharing data between third-party vendors.

Penalties for non-compliance can top $100,000 per violation, so organizations are wise to be proactive and fall in line with the new rules.

PIPEDA a challenge for SMEs

Smaller businesses will likely have more difficulty complying with the law, particularly because they lack full-time IT teams or personnel to help track and protect data. Only now the financial stakes of ensuring adequate cybersecurity are significantly higher. As if the potential brand and bottom-line hit from an incident of data theft wasn’t bad enough, to add insult to injury cash-strapped companies also have to worry about Ottawa levying a steep fine when they’re at their most vulnerable.

While the new PIPEDA rules are obviously focused on the protection of data while promoting cybersecurity vigilance and protection for consumers, this is also about physical security. Why? It’s not uncommon for thieves to steal laptops or servers from an office or retail outlet, for example, then search those devices for everything from sellable business data to credit card information. Whether they actually find anything to peddle is beside the point. Because so many organizations still lack the necessary cloud- or hardware-based back up systems to protect data in case of a physical theft, losing that information to physical burglaries can be just as bad as being hacked by an online malfeasant.

An opportunity to think holistically about security

Here’s the good news: PIPEDA represents an important opportunity for organizations of all sizes and across industries to improve their security infrastructure. Without this legislative impetus, many companies would be happy to keep on carrying on, ignoring potential threats and crossing their fingers that a hacker or burglar won’t one day target their precious customer data.

It’s best to look at PIPEDA as a chance to develop a comprehensive security strategy that looks at both physical and digital security in a holistic way, analyzing potential vulnerabilities and outlining effective tools to help mitigate risk. This would also be the ideal time to consider upgrading security hardware such as monitoring and alarm systems, not to mention the crucial software that protects everything from your property’s entry points to devices such as laptops. These security components should all work in harmony and when one is insufficient, crafty criminals will be sure to take advantage to exploit weaknesses.

Is PIPEDA compliance potentially costly? Yes, but taking a proactive approach is always less expensive than trying to recover from a massive data breach. For that reason, the legislation could be just the nudge that your organization needed to stay safe and secure.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

When most organizations, developers or property owners set out to construct a commercial office, manufacturing facility or retail building, they think of the interior space first. Several questions inevitably come to mind: How will my products be featured? What’s the best way to position staff inside my office to maximize productivity? What’s the most efficient use of space to ensure peak production efficiency?

In some rare cases—as in industries where the consideration is mandated through legislation, or to mitigate legal or insurance risk—security makes that roster of important considerations. The unfortunate reality is that it usually falls to the bottom of that priority list, if it makes the cut at all. That’s a major oversight that can wind up contributing to unnecessary risk of theft, vandalism, damage—including from weather conditions and, in worst-case scenarios, natural disasters—and a host of other issues that can negatively impact an organization’s bottom line. The good news: none of this needs to happen.

Instead, organizations can build security into their commercial property designs from the earliest stages. That requires both the wherewithal to insist that architects and designers take security into consideration, as well as to continue placing a priority on security once the building is ready for occupancy. How?

We’ve identified several key considerations to help mitigate future security risks when designing your very own purpose-built commercial facility:

Technology—Newly built properties should incorporate the latest tech such as high-definition cameras, enhanced biometrics, card access systems, cutting-edge security software and other advanced technologies. Working it into the design process early on can help eliminate future costs for installation, wiring and other security-related retrofits down the road.

Windows and doors—Sounds obvious, right? You would think so, but there are many instances where organizations cut back on expenditures for key features such as tamper-proof windows and doors because their construction costs run over budget at the midway point of the project. Opting for cheaper, but less-secure doors or windows, makes sense at the time. Less so after a break-in that puts sensitive electronics, important information or individuals’ lives at risk. Be sure to invest in heavy, fire-resistant steel doors and shatter-resistant windows and alarm all of them to keep your property safe.

Building access—Whenever possible, it makes sense to filter all of a commercial property’s visitors through a single access point, typically a lobby with card access systems, high-definition cameras and a security presence. Pay a visit to most downtown office towers and you can see this system at work. At other properties such as manufacturing facilities, there might be multiple access points such as loading docks. Make sure that your building designs include the installation of card access systems and cameras to guard those entryways, as well.

The outside—Again, it’s easy to focus on the interior of a building in the design phase. But property owners should also think about important elements such as perimeter fencing, those aforementioned outdoor cameras to monitor key areas such as doorways and loading docks, as well as lighting for doorways, pathways and parking lots. Entryways should be designed to be visible from a distance, not tucked behind walls that make it easy for would-be intruders to hide, or surreptitiously follow individuals onto the premises. Landscaping should be attractive, but neatly trimmed to avoid foliage growing over cameras or obstructing sightlines (this happens more than you might think). Having a few trees around a property is acceptable, but opt for shorter shrubs or flowerbeds that deliver curb appeal, yet eliminate the opportunity for individuals to hide in plain sight. In addition, consider drainage when building any property. As recent incidents of flooding around the Greater Toronto Area remind us, torrential downpours can cause structural damage, impede operations and even put lives at risk. Ensure your building isn’t situated in a flood-prone area and be sure the site includes ample drainage to help eliminate water-related risk.

Consult with experts—This list of considerations is by no means exhaustive. There are probably 100 security-related points (or more) to consider when putting together designs for your new commercial building. That’s why it makes sense to consult with a security firm—with expertise in proactive security planning and design—from the start of the process.

It’s just another important way to help eliminate security-related headaches (and preventable costs) in the future.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security