In Michigan, a recent gas station abduction case has stirred national attention. Newspapers and national morning news shows have focused on the case of missing gas station attendant Jessica Heeringa, asking viewers to be watching for a suspect outlined in a police sketch and to contact authorities with any information in the case.
The case also highlights and reports that the gas station owner did not have any video surveillance installed at his facility. In the local media reports, much has been made of this lack of video surveillance, with some questioning if it should be “mandated” for certain businesses.
It’s my guess that some of this discussion is being driven by the role that video played in identifying the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings that happened just two weeks prior to this Michigan abduction.
Yet, it is an interesting question. When (if ever) do you mandate video surveillance? In some areas of the country, local ordinance has mandated video surveillance for service stations operating 24 hours a day.
Considering the ever-growing efforts of the ACLU and persistent media reports suggesting a “big brother” atmosphere being created by increasing public/private use of video surveillance, adoption of such regulations seems to be fraught with controversy.
Like many issues driven by media, controversy, and often-times knee jerk reactions, the challenges are how to improve worker safety while balancing business competitiveness, personal rights, and safer communities.
Video Surveillance implementation for a service station has many benefits, but an ordinance or mandate of any type won’t generally result in the specifics necessary to improve worker safety and increase the likelihood of preventing abductions, robberies or other violent crime. Those specifics are critical.
Even among security consultants you’ll find competing theories on what steps to take with video surveillance in service stations. For example, as helpful as recorded video is for investigating incidents and identifying suspects, a good consultant should be designing systems to increase the prevention factor of video surveillance and taking steps to thwart criminal behavior in other respects. From that perspective, mandating video surveillance will only get you so far.
That said, every business ought to be taking reasonable steps to increase workplace safety and security. Because we have business owners that are willing to do as little as possible to keep their doors open and make a buck, I suspect there will come a time where some code and regulations will exist. While not a panacea, we already have the fire industry as something of an example—requiring by code certain fire extinguishers, fire alarms, sprinkler systems, and more for certain business occupancies and applications. Maybe the time has come for security to be treated as seriously as fire safety within our workplaces. Still, it is a tough call on what to mandate, how specific to make regulations to be effective, and how to balance it with the ever-growing landscape of privacy issues and advocacy.