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WARNING: A PUBLIC AT RISK!

Posted on December 8, 2021 at 2:25 PM

Warning: A Public at Risk!


By


Andrew P. Sutor


Fears of becoming a victim of a crime may be the very last thing on the mind of an American bound for a leisure or hospitality destination, particularly one here in the United States. People headed for fun weekends or vacations tend to leave home in an ebullient, elevated mood, ready to soak in the sun, fun, entertainment, and great food offered by destination resorts. What they tend to put out of their minds is the increased risk they may well be facing as the result of a weakened US economy.


The economic decline has shrunken the pool of on-site security officers in many hospitality venues as well as the ranks of official law enforcement agencies at all levels. As these resources have thinned, so can protect a public who are facing greater exposure. Why? The reason is simple: Criminals read the papers and watch television as much as the general public does. They know police and security resources have been trimmed; they know that visitors to such places as hotels, motels, shopping malls, casinos, nightclubs, schools, and sports arenas all present far more tempting targets for every type of crime than ever before.


We often don’t know about this because all the players in this security game have a vested interest in under-reporting crime and diminishing risk. A federal law enforcement victimization study estimates that only 20 percent of serious crime is reported to authorities. Far too many police departments across the nation perpetuate this distortion to propagate the illusion that their crime-fighting records are better than they actually are.


Private companies operating public hospitality and leisure facilities have an even more compelling reason to under-report crime at the properties they manage. First professional security is expensive. Whether it’s boots on the ground or electronic surveillance or pre-emptive plainclothes activities we are talking about significant dollars to provide even a minimum standard of care for the security of guests patronizing their facilities. Multi-billion-dollar companies, of course, do not deliberately wish to put the public at risk, but to protect their margins and profits, they often do.


The publicity and legal implications of diminished security are far too high. Yet the sad truth is that trimming budgets for security by consolidating posts, cutting down staff, and hoping for the best often finds rationalizations aplenty when the pressures are on security departments to cut, cut, and cut some more. There is a legal characterization of this kind of policy; it is called willful ignorance. In plain language, it means looking the other way and ignoring foreseeable risk when you suspect that something is amiss.


Willful ignorance is what we often face when big companies who serve huge masses of the public construct their operating budgets in tough times. And it is the public in the end, who pays a hefty price by not being as safe as they otherwise would have been in visiting these hospitality industry venues.


In New Jersey, we have seen reductions in security and surveillance budgets at Atlantic City casinos. A Dateline NBC segment focused on three casino hotels sued for negligent security. A spokesman for the hotels said the level of crime in the facilities was “insignificant.”


During discovery, however, the plaintiff’s attorney did not rely on in-house records but acquired Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) reports from local police. That data showed more than 10,000 police calls and actions at one casino during a five-and-a-half-year period, including four homicides in 2009.


Casinos are among the prime culprits in this negligent leisure world of ours. However, other types of companies including Comcast, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wendy’s, Regal Cinemas, and Clear Channel Communications have negligent security and premises liability problems as well.


Due to severe cutbacks engineered by managements insufficiently sensitive to public safety, the public remains at higher risk than ever before. The only sure way to change this dangerous trend is to provide object lessons to those managements who have raised the art of willful ignorance about crime and foreseeable risk to a high level. That way is to get the plaintiff’s counsel to force defendant companies to perform risk assessments and provide adequate security for their lawful business guests. Only when the force of such evidence results in powerful verdicts will change occur.

 

Andrew P. Sutor is a Principal at Sutor & Associates, LLC, which provides professional security consultant and expert witness services for law firms and attorneys pursuing premises liability and negligent security cases. He can be reached at [email protected] or 609.822.2626.

 

Bibliography:

• FBI Uniform Crime Reports, U.S. Justice Department, Clarksburg, W. VA;

• “Police Operations,” Sutor, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, MN (1976);

• Handbook: “Security Standards for the Hospitality Industry,” Sutor, (2013);

• DATELINE NBC Video: “Hidden Camera Investigation Uncovers Security Gaps”;

• Federal Rules of Evidence: (Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594.);

• Litigating Premises Security Cases, John Leighton, Thompson West Publishing Co., 2006.

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