Consider Liability Issues When Installing Security Cameras
On June 11, Mayor de Blasio announced the start of a long-overdue security camera installation in six public housing developments around the city. Previously, de Blasio had blamed the city for the lack of security cameras in housing project buildings, calling the delay “unacceptable bureaucracy.” This prolonged issue received greater attention in the wake of the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old and critical injuring of a 7-year-old who were attacked while on their way to get ice cream at one of the public housing developments on June 1.
The suspect was found in Ozone Park, Queens, after his cell phone was tracked. But police say their investigation was impeded because there was no camera in the elevator of the building where the stabbings occurred.
Fewer than half of the buildings in public housing have surveillance cameras in the lobbies and elevators. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) had $27 million to install security cameras in 49 housing projects, including the projects where the attacks occurred, but the mayor said they were “sitting on the money” for various reasons. He ordered NYCHA to swiftly add the security enhancements to the 49 housing projects. And he promised that all security additions would be implemented before the end of 2014.
When crimes occur in apartment buildings, tenants’ lives are dramatically affected. Tenant satisfaction plummets, and a building can start to develop a reputation for unsafe living conditions. Installing security cameras as a crime deterrent is a proven way to reduce crimes in buildings, aid investigations if crimes occur, and allay tenant fears.
Follow Three Rules
If you choose to install a surveillance system on your own, there are important liability considerations to take into account.
Provide security with reasonable competence. Generally, once you undertake a duty, you can become responsible if something goes wrong, says premises liability attorney Rick Brody. Therefore, once you decide to provide security in your building, you are required to do it with reasonable competence, adds Brody. If you don’t and someone is hurt, a court may hold you responsible.
Be honest with level of security. Although your security measures don’t need to be perfect, they need to be reasonable, says Jon Groussman, vice president of Liability Consultants, Inc. Once you decide what security measures to use, be honest about the level of security you provide in your building. If you say that your security cameras are monitored at all times, you had better make sure that they are, says Brody.
Brody knows of one owner who announced that the community’s security cameras were monitored 24 hours a day. But when a man was assaulted in the building’s common area, there was no one monitoring the cameras. The victim sued, claiming that he was less careful because he had been told that the common area was monitored. The victim argued that if the security guard had been watching the security camera as he was supposed to, he could have prevented or stopped the attack.
The owner eventually settled the case, paying the victim several hundred thousand dollars in damages, says Brody. A person can’t have a false sense of security unless you have misrepresented the level of security in your building to them.
Keep devices well-maintained. It’s also important to keep security devices in good repair. Having a camera that’s broken is just as bad as, if not worse than, having a camera that’s not monitored when it should be, says Groussman. You can implement a maintenance program for checking and repairing security equipment.