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Office Buildings Stepping Up Security Services : Crime: These days, employees who work late want assurance they won't meet strangers in the corridors and may expect an escort to their cars.

June 24, 1990|RON GALPERIN | Galperin is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer who has covered the commercial real estate scene for several years

It's 2 a.m., and you are finally ready to leave work.

The office feels like a cavern. The corridors are dim. The elevator seems to take forever. And the parking garage is barren.

Maybe it's time to start shopping for new office space.

Today, building security is a topic sure to come up in lease negotiations. Buildings without a comprehensive plan are increasingly shunned by businesses looking to relocate. Tenants are demanding more attention to their safety, and commercial landlords are offering a wide range of security services.

Instead of living with fear, a simple call to the building's security station can summon an escort to the car. Specially programmed elevators and credit-card-controlled door locks help ensure that unwelcome guests don't get access to offices.

And cameras watch every exit and corridor for any suspicious activities.

All this technology also presents what a few critics consider a more ominous side.

Some companies have gone so far as to install retina scanners that use an infrared light to "read" a person's eyes and determine if they are one of the people allowed to enter a particular area.

Every move can be tracked by computer. With doors and elevators that require access codes or cards, it's easy for building managers and bosses to get a computer printout of who has been where and when. The computer tracks entrances and exits, elevator rides and even trips to the toilet.

Whatever the technology's implications, demand keeps growing. Last year, the security industry raked in somewhere between $9 billion and $17 billion. About 60% of that was spent on commercial security systems and services, according to the Security Industry Assn. An estimated 1.1 million people are employed in private security.

"It's playing an ever-increasing role in the leasing of properties," said Christopher Galante, director of public safety for Heitman Properties Ltd. in Beverly Hills. "Tenants are more aware of it than ever."

Landlords are required by law to protect tenants from reasonably foreseeable harms. This, said William L. Rinehart, director of corporate security at Tishman West Cos., "has created a burden on property owners to create a secure environment for tenants and visitors."

Rinehart's company manages about 30 office buildings, all of which have some sort of security program.

"We deal with very sophisticated tenants, and they're very conscious of security and safety," he said. In fact, Rinehart added, he often sits in on lease negotiations so that tenants can query him on the details of how they would be protected if they leased in the building.

Tenants want to know: What systems are in place? How is access controlled? How do guards handle a person's walking out of a building with office equipment? What kind of training do the guards get? How are the security personnel dressed?

When it comes to deciding on where to move, noted Rinehart, no detail is considered too small.

"Anybody can gain access to the building with a business suit and create mischief," warned Aydin (Turk) Bircan, president and chief executive officer of ISS Security Services Inc. in downtown Los Angeles. "In the daytime, the office buildings are quite vulnerable."

Some of the buildings served by ISS include the recently built First Interstate World Center, the garment district's Cooper Building and Burbank's Fine Arts Building.

Tenants seek protection from a wide range of undesirables such as disgruntled ex-employees, crazed clients, dishonest office workers and organized groups of thieves, known as "office creepers," who make their way through whole neighborhoods.

There is a limit, however, to the scope of protection offered by most landlords and the security companies they hire.

Most guards are instructed never to use physical force--that's left to the law enforcement officers. The guards also very rarely carry guns. Arming the guards is too great a liability for most landlords and security companies.

Besides, said Bircan, "we don't want a shoot-out at the building." Instead, most guards walk their rounds unarmed and log their scheduled stops either on paper or with a computerized system.

Mark Hazan, vice president of operations at Trizec Properties Inc. in Encino, doesn't believe in guns either.

"We would never confront an armed robber," said Hazan. The role of security is primarily to help protect tenants in case of a fire or earthquake. And, he said, "we don't want to give the impression of being a maximum security building."

"You want to develop a tough reputation," noted Fred Dickey, operations manager for United Security Industries in Santa Monica. Still, he said, his guards do not use force but summon the police.

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