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Police: Gates more for decoration than safety

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The presence of security-symbolizing access gates might do wonders for luring renters into gated apartment complexes but very little for their overall safety.

Despite advertising terminology such as "safe," "family friendly" and "luxury," incident reports suggest that crime rates are, at best, marginally lower inside the perceived friendly confines.

While crime statistics weren't immediately available for gated versus ungated communities, Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. David Schiralli said the wrought iron barriers aren't nearly the ramparts some believe them to be.

For instance, intruders can lie in wait and tailgate residents into the complex, he said.

Gates advertised to close after each vehicle often do not. Other infiltrators use access control systems to dial random apartments, hoping someone buzzes them in.

And it's not uncommon for access gates, which require regular maintenance, to be out of service, or left open during times of increased traffic flow.

Not to mention, said Capt. Bruce Hedley of the Lilburn Police Department, there's no telling who is privy to entry codes and who possesses access cards.

"You might have pizza delivery people, FedEx, (residents') boyfriends, girlfriends, friends of a friend," Hedley said. "Next thing you know, there's no difference (between gated and ungated). I think sometimes the gates create a false sense of security."

While many assume that crimes are committed by undesirables from the outside, sometimes the burglaries and break-ins turn out to be inside jobs.

"It's kinda like locking the barn door after the fox is in the hen house," Schiralli said.

To screen potential foxes, more and more property owners are conducting background checks on prospective renters, but they are not required.

Which begs the question, just what do management officials do to ensure the safety of those living on their properties?

According to attorneys at Kaufman Law P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia law requires property owners to keep their premises safe and warn residents of known dangers.

Does this mean managers are required to notify residents individually of criminal activity or will a letter placed "conspicuously" on the laundry room bulletin board suffice?

The answer appears to be at the discretion of individual management companies.

A man living at a picturesque Pleasant Hill Road complex recalled nearly a year ago a burglary that happened right across the hall from him in broad daylight.

"Somebody just kicked the door in and stole the lady's flat-screen (T.V.), I think," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "Left some other valuables laying right on the counter."

Police responded and word of the crime quickly spread around the building, but word of mouth, not property management, was to credit.

A manager for the property did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment regarding the company's policy on informing residents of criminal activity.

"Often apartment managers feel that such specific notice would hurt marketing efforts to keep their complexes full," an attorney at Kaufman Law said.

To help protect yourself from becoming a victim of crime, law enforcement officials offered the following tips:

* Don't develop a false sense of security. Lock your doors and don't open them for strangers;

* Don't buzz people into the complex if you don't know them;

* Be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement;

* Know whether your complex employs security officers or enlists the services of off-duty, resident police officers; and

* Consider forming a neighborhood watch.

Schiralli said gates do sometimes serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals looking for easy entry and escape routes, perhaps offering protection from "drop-of-a-dime crimes," but stressed that they don't make for a crime-free zone.

"People shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security," Schiralli said. "All sorts of crimes still happen within these gated communities."