Thursday, March 28, 2013

Opening the Doors to Hotel Crime

I have been to a safety seminar conducted by Dave Wiggins and it was very informative.  This article by Dave Wiggins was sent out by the California Hotel & Lodging Association and I wanted to pass it on since we are constantly closing guests' doors we find open during our security walks.  Guests are often in their room with door ajar or sometimes they step out and do not make sure it is closed tightly after them.  Hopefully this information for hotel operators can help some guests as well.

The funny thing is that guests actually let down their guard when in hotels (because hotels are trying to be hospitable and friendly) and they should actually be on a heightened level of safety awareness.

by Dave Wiggins

Tourists are notorious for failing to protect themselves and their valuables while travelling. This characteristic, combined with the fact that there are criminals who prey specifically on travelers and tourism venues, contrives to open the door to much of the most common tourism related crime. And open doors are a particular problem for hotels, especially when “Door Pushers” are at work.

Door pushing is a classic crime which has long plagued the hospitality industry. Guestrooms make an attractive target for thieves, with lots of portable valuables in a confined space, and occupants who are largely absent. Guestroom doors are notorious for not closing completely, for a variety of reasons. These include differences in temperature and air pressure between rooms and hallways; worn closer springs; snagging on carpeting or door jams; catching on safety latches in the wrong position; and faulty bolts. More often than not, guests exiting their rooms fail to pull the door completely shut, and ensure that it locks securely. Business travelers running late for appointments, and leisure travelers preoccupied with sun-n-fun, all too often leave their rooms in a frenzy of inattention to their doors. As a bellman at a busy resort hotel comments, “If I had five bucks for every time I came across a room door accidentally propped open by a safety latch, I could pay for my vacation.”

No surprise then that unscrupulous criminals target unsecured guestroom doors. The crime is referred to simply as “door pushing.” Criminals push on what appears to be an unsecured guestroom door, and if it opens, they peek inside to determine if the room is occupied, and whether it contains any valuables. If so, the criminal then burglarizes the room, and takes off with the property. Such petty crooks hit the jackpot with occupied rooms, where the losses usually include computers and other electronics, jewelry, cash, and clothing. Guest suitcases are often used to haul off the stolen property. But even unoccupied guestrooms are ripped off for hotel property, including flatscreen televisions and other electronics, as well as appliances, furniture, and linens. One of my cases involved a crime spree spanning several months and numerous hotels committed by a crew of crooks stealing hotel flatscreens. The two-man teams arrived with all the tools needed to quickly detach the LCD screens from wallmounts. They pushed on open doors, removed the televisions from walls, covered them with a sheet, and walked out of the hotel to their waiting van.

While the majority of door pushing incidents are what police refer to as “crimes of opportunity,” the most problematic crime sprees may be the work of door pushers who are career criminals. Many thefts resulting from door pushing are random acts. For example, a guest, visitor, or employee of the hotel happens to walk by an obviously unsecured guestroom door, pushes it open, and spontaneously decides to steal the valuables inside. Such marginal characters account for an occasional case in any given tourism destination. However, a “professional” door pusher can be responsible for a rash of thefts at a particular hotel or tourism venue, and cause tens of thousands of dollars in losses.

There actually are such professionals – criminals who specialize in door pushing and other tourism specific crimes. These crooks create their own crimes of opportunity by chronically working tourism venues and exploiting known weaknesses. High-rise hotels in densely packed hospitality communities are favored environments for such criminals. They can test hundreds of doors within a short few hours, and in a busy hotel their activities often go totally unnoticed. Such was the case with one professional thief in the Bay Area. But after hitting too often in the same area, he got arrested - several times. Once in-custody this crook admitted that most all of his criminal income resulted from door pushing and guestroom thefts. Before eventually being sentenced to state prison for the first time, police estimated he had stolen over $200,000 of guest and hotel property.

Door pushing is a very low percentage criminal activity. A career crook may push on 100 doors before finding an unsecured one, and then typically only one-quarter of these lead to an occupied room with valuables. This means that professional door pushers tend to work quickly. They cruise through hallways rapidly, one after another, pushing on any likely doors, and if they don’t score, then move on to the next hotel. The Bay Area criminal mentioned above admitted that he would typically check over 2,000 room doors on a working day. This rush of crookery is best conducted during those periods when guests have most likely left their rooms: 10:00am – 4:00pm. All of this can be instructive in helping to prevent and detect door pushing at your hotel.


GUEST EDUCATION - Educate guests to double-check their door whenever exiting. Guests should be advised to pull the door shut manually, and then test to make sure it’s closed and locked by turning the handle and pushing on the door. Encourage guests to use in-room safes, as well as the hotel Safe Deposit box.

INSPECT YOUR DOORS - Conduct regularly scheduled tests of all guestroom doors to ensure that they close and lock properly. Handles, bolts, closer springs, door jams, and electronics should all be tested.

STAFF TRAINING - Train staff members on the issues.Employees should be trained how to check and secure guestroom doors. They should also be educated on this type of criminal activity. Teach staffers to report suspicious people and activity. A person who is repeatedly seen at your property walking guestroom hallways during daytime hours should be reported to security and/or police. Digital video surveillance can be very helpful in detecting behavior consistent with door pushing. Train those security team members who monitor your cameras on what to look for. Archive all videotape of possible suspects. This may be used later to help prosecute the criminal once apprehended.

LAW ENFORCEMENT - Report incidents to law enforcement. While your own property may have suffered only a couple of cases in recent weeks, these may be part of a broader problem of which you are not aware. If a career criminal is working your tourism venue, it’s essential to involve local law enforcement.

Dave Wiggins is a 27-year veteran of California law enforcement, and the past president of the California Tourism Safety & Security Association. He is a recognized expert on tourism related crimes, investigations, and crime prevention at tourism venues. Dave and his colleagues provide training for security, law enforcement, and tourism teams around the nation.To contact the author, email TSSUPDATES@GMAIL.COM.


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