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Illustration by Steven Parke

Night Watch

​Car lots are attractive to thieves. Even with a security officer on duty at night, it is virtually impossible for one person to protect hundreds of vehicles parked over several acres. And amid dense clusters of cars, it’s easy for intruders to move around unnoticed. A dealership that faced such a security challenge, Academy Ford of Laurel, Maryland, is located on a busy thoroughfare between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“I probably have close to 210 new and probably 80 used vehicles, and I have my service department that sees 80 customers a day, and I’ve got a body shop as well,” Mike Lynch, vice president of the dealership, tells Security Management.

For years, the dealership hired a security officer from a local contracting firm to watch the premises after hours, but there were still incidents. “I wouldn’t say our crime is really high here, but it’s just like any other place,” Lynch says. “If a thief wants something, they’re going to find a way of getting to it.”

A single guard on duty might spend 20 minutes on one end of the lot, Lynch says, which gives the criminals “20 minutes to do whatever they need to do—steal a tire, steal a tailgate, steal wheels. Those are the typical vandalism things we would run into when I had the guard company.”

At the end of 2012, Academy Ford began looking for a way to not only enhance its security, but also to cut down on costs. A friend who worked at another dealership told Lynch about Eyewitness Surveillance of Hanover, Maryland, a remote surveillance company that remotely keeps an eye on assets after business hours, and he contacted the company.

Lynch saw a demo of the Eyewitness product in 2012, and purchased the surveillance system in February 2013. The company came to the dealership to set up the technology and install its proprietary HD cameras to ensure that the entire lot was covered.

The solution from Eyewitness uses software analytics and perimeter in­trusion technology to spot a person or large object when it comes into a specified field of view. The analytics are able to weed out unthreatening objects, such as debris.

When something of note comes into the camera’s field of view, a red box shows up around the object, follows it wherever it goes, and sends an alert to operators at the Eyewitness Tactical Operations Center, who monitor the camera feeds that are spread out across the dealership. The operators are also connected to the public address system at Academy Ford, so they can speak to anyone who walks onto the lot after hours.

“They can say, ‘Welcome to Academy Ford, we appreciate you visiting. We are closed, but we allow you to look at vehi­cles and shop for vehicles. If you need any assistance you’ll have to wait until 7 a.m. when the first employee arrives,’” Lynch notes.

Operators also inform people that they are under video surveillance, and signage stating this fact is posted at the entrance to the lot. Lynch says he believes that the signs serve as a deterrent to anyone considering stealing from the dealership.

While people are allowed to browse the cars after hours, the operators at Eyewitness are trained to spot the difference between someone shopping and someone poised for theft. “They’ve been trained to know the person that’s hunched over and running between cars [is] not shopping, he’s looking to take something, and he may even have a lug wrench in his hand,” Lynch says.

If a person who fits the profile of an intruder enters the premises, Eyewitness will immediately escalate the live voice message to try to prevent the illegal or unauthorized activity from happening. If the behavior continues, operators will notify law enforcement and then inform different members of the Academy Ford leadership team by phone.

“The directives they have are to call my general manager first, then they’ll call me second,” says Lynch of the calling order. However, Lynch adds that since installing the technology, Academy Ford has had zero incidents of theft.

A password-protected Web portal is also available to authorized users, allowing Lynch and others at the dealership to view the surveillance feeds from any smart device anywhere with an Internet connection. The view is scalable and can be tailored to whatever number of cameras the user wants to look at.

Although no theft has occurred since Academy Ford chose Eyewitness, there have been cases where the solution proved useful. Because the dealership sits on a busy highway, there were traffic accidents right in front of Academy Ford, including one that damaged a few of the company’s used cars. Surveillance video captured the accident, which was crucial to the insurance investigation. And when a high-profile car chase sped past the dealership, Lynch was able to give video of the incident to law enforcement.

Lynch adds that the remote surveillance is useful for the areas at the dealership where cash is collected, both for the safety of the cashier and for monitoring employees handling the money. The cameras also provide a customer-service value, allowing Lynch to keep an eye on productivity.

“I can look at that camera toward the end of the day and make sure my service writers are actually going out and talking to our customers, and to make sure that they’re actually doing redelivery of vehicles,” notes Lynch.

The video from the cameras is kept for 30 days, then the storage cycle starts over, which Lynch says gives them plenty of time to go back and get any images they could need.

Lynch notes the dealership has saved about 65 percent in surveillance costs since switching from guards to the remote video solution. “I’m truly happy having them, not only for the cost savings but just knowing that they’re there watching the lot while I’m sleeping” says Lynch.

While the remote surveillance option enhances security overall, Lynch emphasizes that it’s critical to be vigilant. “We observe our lot every day…all the managers are pretty habitual about driving through the lot and making sure everything looks good,” Lynch notes. “We lock our tailgates, we take our spare tires out of our vans. We don’t put candy out there just to be taken. So we do our own vigilance as well—you have to.”