Paul Davis on Crime and Security

Small and home businesses, unfortunately, are often the target of thieves and scam artists. Learn how a Business Watch program can help.

In my last column, I passed on comments from a police officer from Omaha, Nebraska regarding their Business Watch program.

Officer Angie Echtenkamp, the Business Watch program coordinator for the Omaha Police Department, advised small business people to join a local Business Watch program or to start one up if your business community did not already have one.

Echtenkamp said that the Business Watch is a great program and it can be extremely beneficial to the community and the police in the fight against crime.

Sgt. Jeff Witte, the Business Watch Coordinator for the Burnsville, MN Police Department, agrees. I contacted Sgt. Witte and I asked him why he believed that small businesses should become part of a Business Watch program?

“It enables individuals businesses to take an active part in preventing and reducing crime on business premises through sharing information, raising awareness and improving communications,” Witte explained.

Witte added that their Business Watch program in Burnsville works by two-way communication between program members and the Burnsville Police Department.

Witte said that the Burnsville Police Department developed a city-wide Business Watch Alert e-mail network and the police department notifies program members about business-related criminal activity.

Witte explained that the e-mail alerts warn members about forged, stolen or lost checks and credit cards, stolen identities, counterfeit bills and checks, names and account numbers of persons actively passing bad checks, current business scams, shoplifters, area vandalism and other topics of interest to small business people.

In turn, Witte noted, businesses can notify the Burnsville Police Department of crimes or suspicious activity in or around their vicinity. Witte said the police will then warn the other Business Watch members by forwarding the information via the Business Watch e-mail network.

“We hold meetings to go over issues businesses are seeing and we often bring a speaker to talk about a current topic of interest,” Witte said.

Witte went on to state that alerts are issued as soon as possible after the Burnsville Police Department responds to a call for service or otherwise becomes aware of criminal activity. Witte said that they stop the spread of further criminal activity within the city’s business community by getting the information out in a timely manner.

Witte explained that improved communications between the business community and the Burnsville Police Department has provided important tips and investigative leads that have lead to solving several crimes.

“Get to know your business neighbors. There is a social component to a Business Watch program,” Witte said. “The better you know the people who work in your neighboring businesses, the more likely they will look out for your business as well as their own.”

Witte suggests that business people make personal contact with their business neighbors and talk about how you can work together to prevent crime and keep an eye on each other’s businesses.

“Do not endanger yourself,” Witte warns business people. “Rather, learn to be a good witness. Take note of unique or unusual characteristics, such as scars, tattoos, clothing and so on. You should also note the direction the person goes and get a license plate number if possible.”

If you are unaware of a local Business Watch in your business community, contact your local police department or your Better Business Bureau.

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