HOA Violence--Part 1: Minimizing the Risk of Workplace and Domestic Violence

July 2011
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Think workplace or domestic violence can't happen at your home owners association? Though statistics on violence in HOAs are hard to come by, Rich Cordivari will tell you that it can.

"I learned from hard and tragic experience in the last couple of years in Florida," says the former lieutenant from the Broward County Sherriff's Department and current vice president of learning and development at AlliedBarton Security Services in Conshohocken, Pa. "We lost one of our security officers, who heroically attempted to stop a man subject to a protection from abuse order from coming onto the property in a community association in Florida. He died trying to stop the man from coming onto the property to go after a resident. That's real."

"You can talk to anybody in our business," Cordivari adds. "If you read all the reports we've filed, on a fairly regular basis you can find stories of HOAs being notified of a protection from abuse order or someone trying to access the property unlawfully."

How should you and your HOA's manager respond to domestic violence among residents, to workplace violence, and to emergency situations involving people intending to cause harm? Here, in part one of a two–part series, we explain how to prevent violent behavior.

How Your HOA Can Prevent Violence

It's impossible to ward off every potential instance of violence. But there are things your HOA can do to minimize the risk, starting with keeping an eye on your HOA's employees.

"There are warning signs of workplace violence," says Cordivari. "Keep an eye out for a need for increased supervision, boredom, tardiness, lack of attention to health and hygiene, or substance abuse among employees."

Cordivari says HOAs should also be alert for instances of domestic violence. "I think domestic violence would be the more realistic scenario in HOAs," he says. "I live in a condo development, but we're in a completely open environment. I don't know that the woman who runs our association knows chapter and verse of every divorce or every person trying to get away from a spouse."

However, from the standpoint of security, your HOA and manager should keep an eye out for certain warning signs. "Let's say that as a neighbor I hear signs of a domestic violence situation—people arguing excessively—that looks like it could turn violent," says Cordivari. "If you have security in the building or on your property, as a security partner, that would be important for us to know."

A designated HOA board member or your manager should also meet regularly with your local police to exchange such information. "In the community where I live, we have a really good communication follow–up protocol with the police," says Cordivari. "The troop commander talks regularly with our property manager. The meeting could just be once every two weeks or monthly, where the police say, 'Here's what's happening in your neighborhood that you should be aware of.' The police might tell us they were at a certain house three or four times. You can't go publicizing that, but as a community that's important information for the board or manager to know so they're not in the dark if, god forbid, something happens. That's what community policing is, and that's going to make residents feel safer."

Share Your Physical Plan with First Responders

Cordivari says it's also important for your HOA to share information about its physical space with first responders. "My background is policing," he explains. "The last thing I want as a first responder is to walk into an unknown situation. Whether it's a gated community or a condo development, first–responders should be regularly interacting with people who run those communities so those first responders at least know the layout. It's important for them to know the roadway out, the floor plans, and whether you have a written and communicated emergency response plan."

At a minimum, Cordivari says, provide first responders with a good map of your community showing units and crossroads. "If you have a gated community, where do I go in? Is there a pass code? Is the gate manned? Who's the security company? Whom do I call when I get there?" Cordivari adds. "I'm presuming the onsite security knows more about that community than I do, and I'm going to be looking for help. The more information I have about your community and the more I know about the layout, the happier I am."

"Your emphasis should be on communication," Cordivari adds. "Get police, fire, and emergency–medical services involved. The more info they have beforehand so they can prepare, the better they can help you."

Get Your HOA Community's Buy In

You should also work to create a community emergency plan. "Maybe your safety committee meets regularly and has a monthly safety drill," suggest Cordivari. "Maybe there's a what–to–do–in–an–emergency plan that you create with police and other first responders. Is yours a 55–and–older community or one that just has more elderly folks and people who need care? Your plan should be based on the population, their expectations, and your HOA's culture."

Also let residents know about and be involved in creating your plan. "Make sure the stakeholders in your community have a say in the plan, and remember that if you haven't communicated it to people, it's just a doorstop," says Cordivari. "Security and safety is a lot about peace of mind. As a resident, it's important to make sure I can comment on it and that it makes me feel safer and more secure because, as a community, we've thought about these things and can act on the plan, if necessary."

When Violence Occurs

Even the best–prepared HOAs may suffer violent incidents. How you respond depends on the size and type of your community. "Communicate to residents immediately if there's a problem," says Cordivari. "I don't think in today's day and age that it's completely unrealistic to have an email or text–based system. Take a worst–case scenario—a domestic–violence situation that has gone bad. Let 's say a man is threatening his spouse and keeping her hostage in the home. I want to make sure the community knows about it so residents stay inside and give police the opportunity to evacuate without people getting hurt."

"That's why you have regular meetings," he adds. "They allow you to walk through what–if scenarios. If you talk about some of the things that might happen and walk through them, it's a lot easier to address them if something should happen."

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