Ralph Witherspoon, CPP, CSC
Witherspoon Security Consulting
22021 Brookpark Road, Suite 100
Cleveland, Ohio 44126-3100

From the earliest times, thieves and robbers often subjected travelers to attacks. Outside of walled cities and castles travelers could find shelter and protection only in wayside inns. From this practice grew the principle that innkeepers were responsible for providing their guests not only food and lodging, but also security and protection against criminal attack.

While the duty of innkeepers to protect their guests is not quite as ironclad today as it once was, lodgings, including motels and gaming casinos with attached hotels, still owe a responsibility to their guests and other invitees. And guests continue to be at risk today! Criminals often look at lodgings as attractive targets filled with unsuspecting potential victims, most of whom will leave town soon after being robbed or victimized.

In most states the legal responsibility owed to their guests by lodging management requires the operator to "exercise reasonable care" in identifying potential crime risks, and to take reasonable measures to prevent those crimes, or to warn his or her guests against them. In general, the greater the likelihood of future crime or injury, the greater the innkeeper's responsibility to defend or warn against it. In other words, the innkeeper is likely to be found negligent and liable for a criminal attack on a guest when: (1) the criminal act was reasonably foreseeable; and (2) the innkeeper's response, in light of that foreseeability of crime, is unreasonable and not consistent with prudence and care.

Determining what crime is "reasonably foreseeable" requires a security expert to thoroughly review the facts in each particular case. Some states use the "prior similar crimes" test, which analyzes previous crimes on the property. How similar the crimes must be and how recent their prior occurrence are matters usually determined by the judge in each case.

Other states use the "totality of the circumstances" standard, which examines other factors in addition to any prior similar crimes on the property. Such factors can include:

Nature and operation of the facility: Gaming casinos by their nature invite guests to bring large amounts of cash. Motel security for a roadside inn has some different considerations than a resort facility that attracts more affluent vacationers, typically to a larger, more spread-out property. 

Location of the lodging facility: Some cities have higher crime rates than others, and within most all cities some areas have higher crime rates than the average for that city. Being located in or near one of those "high crime" areas may increase the crime risk to a specific lodging. 
Actual past crimes on the property: These are frequently one of the best means of predicting future crimes, since what has occurred already is likely to recur if changes in security haven't been made.

Security problems created by the facility's design or layout, for example, "blind spots," where criminals may loiter or hide, and broken lines of sight that reduce visibility. Both problems may increase specific crime risks.
Shrubs, bushes and low-hanging trees also offer hiding places when not trimmed. Shrubs should be not higher than 18 inches above ground, and tree branches trimmed so that they hang not less than eight feet above the ground.
Alcoholic beverage service on the property: Alcohol not only tends to reduce inhibitions, but it also reduces alertness and wariness a situation many criminals like to exploit.
Crimes at similar nearby properties. While properties generally compete against each other for business, they should be cooperating in the common fight against crime. The type of crime that occurs on one property usually occurs or impacts all similar nearby properties. 

Many other factors may also be applicable to assessing crime foreseeability, and many are specific to a given property and its unique operation or to its surrounding area. A motel security expert can help management identify them.

Reasonable Security 
Almost any lodging facility, depending on its location and the nature of its operation, should utilize some or all of the following security measures:

Screening and background checks of employees: This is a basic step for all lodging security. Many lodging employees have some access to guestrooms and belongings, or to confidential information about the guests or about inn security. If the staff is untrustworthy, most other security measures will fail.

Adequate doors and locking hardware the most basic of precautions. If the guest room door, its frame and its hardware are insufficient to resist moderate force; all guests are at risk. Likewise, providing appropriate locking devices is crucial. The standard, especially in larger lodgings, is evolving toward the use of electronic locks that can (and should) be changed immediately when a guest departs or a key is reported lost. Where traditional metal keys are used, an effective key control and monitoring program is essential. All guestroom entry doors should be equipped with a minimum of two locks, one of them a dead bolt, and with a wide-angle peephole viewer in the door. A window adjacent to the door that permits viewing of visitors before opening the door will serve the same purpose. Sliding balcony-type doors should be equipped with a second locking device, such as a "charley bar" or through-the-door pin.

Appropriate levels of lighting for all areas of risk, including parking lots. Many criminals prefer to commit their crimes in darkness, thus avoiding detection and possible identification. Appropriate levels of lighting are very important in deterring crime in such risk areas as stairwells, hallways, exterior walkways, and parking areas and garages. Interior stairwells, hallways and parking spaces should be illuminated 24 hours per day, as sufficient sunlight seldom, if ever, enters such interior areas. For exterior surface parking lots I recommend that lighting should be a minimum of three foot-candles (measured both vertically and horizontally). While this is a somewhat higher lighting level than some others recommend, in real life non-working lights and dirty lighting fixture covers frequently reduce actual lighting levels to below any acceptable standards. A small excess margin in this area can really pay dividends later. Covered and underground garages should have a minimum of six foot-candles of illumination (measured both vertically and horizontally). However, to enhance safety and security I recommend a maintained level of at least 10 foot-candles in the parking area (over cars), and 20 to 30 foot-candles at entry/exit points, drive lanes, stairs and elevator lobbies. If the parking or garage has a significant history of crimes, or a recent history of violent crimes, higher levels of lighting may be needed.

Appropriate security equipment, such as cameras and alarms. Depending on their size, layout, staffing and crime risk, properties may utilize security equipment to supplement manpower. Management should not only select and install appropriate equipment for the tasks, but it must also maintain it and promptly repair it if it fails. To have a guest rely on visible but non-working security equipment and then be attacked is almost to invite a jury to award damages.

Appropriate staffing for security duties. In small motels, a night clerk monitoring the lobby and front desk may be all that is necessary, although some locations may require bullet-resistant materials for the clerk's protection, depending on the risk of armed robbery. In larger or more spread-out properties, or those with certain crime histories or risks, patrols by in-house or contract security officers may be required to monitor activities. By their observable, uniformed presence, such officers also act to deter criminal offenders. Note that doors leading to the interior of lodgings should usually be locked and/or monitored to control access during hours of darkness.

Appropriate training for staff. Security is the responsibility of all staff members; however, they can't perform that duty unless they are trained and made individually responsible for it. This is especially true of those who have specific daily security duties, such as front-desk clerks, bellhops and security personnel. But maids, maintenance personnel, servers and others should have clear reporting or other security duties spelled out in their job descriptions. It is important that such duties be spelled out not only in the individual's job description, but, most importantly, also in their performance evaluation. That which is monitored and graded tends to get done!

Record-keeping. Maintaining records reflecting adherence to security procedures is critical for management to detect deviations from procedures, make corrections, and defend against future claims of negligent security. As one federal agency is fond of saying about safety, "If it wasn't documented, it didn't occur." Security incidents should always be documented so that management can review the issues and take appropriate corrective actions.

Periodic risk assessments by management. To know its risks and effectively plan to manage them, management of any facility should periodically assess not only its own crime experience, but also that of similar nearby motels (or hotels, or casinos, or resorts), and any actual or potential changes impacting its operation. For example, is the property attracting more female business travelers or airline flight crews, either of which may be attractive targets for thieves or sexual predators? Or, is the property planning to host a jewelry trade show, or is it hosting increasing numbers of foreign visitors who may be unfamiliar with the local area, its customs, language, and its crime? All these factors and more can change both the crime risk and the potential liability for a lodging facility.

Gaming Casinos 
Casinos often appear to have dozens or even hundreds of cameras protecting their guests; however, in many cases the majority of those cameras are utilized (by law) only to ensure the integrity of the games, not for general security purposes. As a result some customers may be lulled into a false sense of security. To be effective and reasonable, a casino property must provide security for both the games and its business invitees (customers).

Because of the actual or perceived availability of "easy money," casinos pose special security risks. Additionally, the availability and consumption of large amounts of alcoholic beverages, which in many cases are "free," increase those risks. Not only do alcoholic beverages tend to reduce inhibitions in some people, but they also tend to lessen their alertness and their awareness of potential crime or assault. Being in strange surroundings away from a familiar environment, they are more likely to become crime victims.

Casino management should devote adequate attention to securing all areas of the casino and its services. For example, garages and parking lots are favorite stalking areas for robbers, rapists and carjackers. See related article: Security for Parking Lots and Garages. Dimly lit walkways to remote housing, and isolated unmonitored hallways are also favored stalking locations.

Because of the heightened risks and the many venues in which they will have to operate, security officers and guard forces should be screened and trained to a much higher level then most security personnel. They should be certified on any weapons they are permitted to carry or use; should be trained in non-lethal force; trained in customer relations; and trained in techniques for verbally defusing situations before they become violent. Casinos, by their very nature, tend to attract criminals. Because of their increased crime risk, guard staffing should be higher in casinos than in stand-alone hotels or nightclubs. Prepared management, coupled with sufficient visible and adequately trained security personnel, can help casinos from becoming a "crime hot spot."

This article cannot hope to cover all aspects of retail lodging and casino security. It was written to provide the reader with a starting point in assessing crime risks to his or her lodging property. It also provides an overview of those basic security measures needed to counter such risks and reduce potential liabilities. Those desiring additional information in a specific area should contact a professional with hotel, casino, resort, condo or motel security expertise for assistance, and property owners and managers should always consult with their attorneys.

Readers desiring additional information on these or related subjects should contact a qualified professional security consultant and/or their attorney.

This article is based on generally accepted security principles, and on data gathered from what are believed to be reliable sources. This article is written for general information purposes only and is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a primary source for making security decisions. Each situation is or can be unique. The author is not an attorney, is not engaged in the practice of law, and is not rendering legal advice. Readers requiring advice about specific security problems or concerns should consult directly with a security professional. The author of this article shall have no liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss, liability, or damage alleged to have been caused by the use or application of any information in this article, nor information contained on this or any linked or related web site.

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