Would you consider moving in with a large group of complete strangers? You know nothing about their habits, their lifestyles, their attitudes or recreational preferences.
You may be quick to exclaim, "Never!," but maybe you already have done so: When you sign an apartment lease, moving in with strangers is exactly what you're doing.
Particularly in a high-rise, you live in close quarters with many people who have an assortment of value systems and approaches to safety. Handing over a spare key to a man you met last week in an online "lonely hearts" chat room might seem incredibly reckless to you--and completely acceptable to your next-door neighbor.
But that doesn't have to scare you. Properly run high-rise apartment buildings, which often have doormen or desk clerks, can be one of the safest forms of multifamily housing, according to security experts. Management can enhance safety by establishing and following security-conscious policies. Residents can help themselves by being aware of security, experts say.
Many crimes committed in multifamily properties are nonconfrontational burglaries to convert property into quick cash for a criminal's immediate needs. While such crimes appear random, they're usually the result of a careful selection in which the criminal decides his chances of being caught are low enough to carry out the crime, said Chris McGoey, a security consultant and author who is working on his second book, "Apartment Security."
Most perpetrators, he said, "shop" for properties to target before committing crimes. It doesn't take a criminal long to find a building managed by a company that only pays lip service to its supposed safety measures.
Referring to this selection process as "risk versus reward," McGoey said the motivation to commit crimes at a target property increases as the criminal gains familiarity with it. Once a criminal succeeds at a particular location, he gains motivation to keep working the building.
The prime targets for criminal activity are a building's entrances, its perimeter and its leasing office, McGoey said.
Lobbies, in particular, serve as one of the criminal's primary points of entry.
If you're in the market for an apartment, choose a building with a small lobby that has a single point of entry. That makes it easier for a doorman, clerk or residents to spot an unfamiliar face or suspicious activity.
Merely posting signs that read "Crime Watch" or "Security Patrol" is sometimes enough to deter a criminal whose objective is to blend into the scenery. Bright exterior lighting, surrounding fences or walls and locked side entries also will discourage criminals.
By virtue of common hallways and a lobby, high-rises can help foster a sense of community that encourages greater communication among residents. Even better, neighbors may band together for the common cause of security, forming crime-watch organizations that can go a long way toward reducing risks.
Even a small-scale crime watch can have a significant impact on building safety, said Jay Harris, vice president of property management at the Washington-based National Multi Housing Council.
Regardless of whether your building has an established crime watch, forming a cooperative with neighbors in your immediate area helps build trust and accountability for activity on your floor.
Knowing your neighbors, particularly the ones on either side of your apartment and directly across from you, is an investment in your personal safety. Exchange apartment keys with a neighbor so that when you leave town, any deliveries or maintenance calls will be directed to a person you trust.
In some areas, Harris said, there have been experiments in which local police, property managers and residents formed specific safety programs.
For example, an alliance between the Henrico County Police and apartment managers in the Richmond area received a 1999 "Best Practices" award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The partnership's main goal is to ease communication between law enforcement officers and property managers.
The effort has reduced considerably the number of offenders who move from one property to another. More than 181 multifamily properties, both privately and publicly owned, have joined the coalition since 1993.