Published On: Thu, Jun 14th, 2018

Compartmentation in blocks of flats

At our annual National Training Event in Northamptonshire in March, I gave a presentation about security in multi-occupancy buildings to more than 200 SBD trained Police Officers and staff, who work with the construction industry and Local Authorities to design out crime. It was an opportunity for me to give my own personal insight, based on my experience as a Beat Officer covering some of South London’s toughest estates.

When I started working for the Police during the 1980s – and throughout my career –we would receive lots of calls to estates about low level incidents, such as anti-social behaviour. They were mostly minor matters but could easily escalate and get out of control. Fires being started deliberately in communal areas like stairwells were also a major cause for concern. For residents living nearby, it could mean a poor quality of life, even if they weren’t victims of crime themselves. For Police, we would attend with at least one other officer, and these incidents used to take up a lot of our time.

One of the problems was that there was free movement on estates for residents and visitors without any controls. People could go anywhere.

When following up a report of an incident, Police Officers would have to call on lots of front doors to speak to residents about what they had seen and to find out who had buzzed open the communal door. Victims and other residents who helped us faced a real threat of reprisals from the culprits and their associates.

Fortunately, technology in the form of visitor and access control systems, incorporating video monitoring, has come to our assistance to stop free movement, along with compartmentation, which gives added security within buildings using secure internal doors, which only authorised residents can access. It has disrupted criminal and anti-social behaviour and has led to a fall in crime.

Modern access control systems on blocks of flats have data logging systems and these can give us all the information we need for investigative purposes. For example, we could find out quickly which flat had been responsible for allowing entry to a large group of youths. We could identify the flat and take the evidence to the landlord or management company. With video entry systems, we can identify the culprits.

A development in London had an arson attack at an entrance to a flat which compartmentation would have prevented. The perpetrator had breached an injunction to tailgate his way into a residential block to bang on the door of his ex-girlfriend’s flat. Whilst she phoned Police and kept the door shut, he gathered materials from a storeroom within the building and set light to them outside her flat. Thankfully, help was on its way. That same developer is now very insistent on compartmentation.

Architects and developers will have real aspirations for their buildings at the outset – wanting them to be great places for people to live. But we know that as construction progresses consultants are brought in, and this could lead to corners being cut to save money, resulting in security itself becoming a victim. Security does cost money, albeit less than it used to, but Police need to present the strongest possible case on behalf of residents who want to be safe and secure in their homes.

I believe passionately, that if we can curtail unlawful free movement, crime and anti-social behaviour will decline. I also believe it would save money and reduce demand on Police time and Local Authority resources, such as repairs and maintenance, as well as other knock-on benefits, including a fall in mental health issues and an increase in educational standards. It would be great to see some research carried out to show how much society would benefit.”

Author: Mark Pollard, Technical Advisor, Secured by Design
Mark is a Technical Advisor with Secured by Design having retired from his role as a Designing Out Crime Officer with the Metropolitan Police in 2006. Mark is proud to continue working for SBD and believes passionately that the crime prevention techniques promoted by the scheme can enhance peoples’ quality of life.