Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trouble in Paradise

So last week we had a break-in. By 'we' I mean my facility. The self storage facility I manage.

It was discovered by my dear Superman. On Monday, he was doing his regular lock check that he does every week, usually on Mondays and Fridays and he discovers a unit that is missing it's lock but still has things in it. Then he discovers a unit that had been recently vacated but there are things in it, so he puts one of our protective locks on it and makes a note to give the tenant that left a call, and another note to call the first tenant to call her and tell her she forgot to put a lock back on her unit, assuming she'd been in her unit over the weekend. These were inside a hallway, and, as he continues down the hallway, he finds another unit missing it's lock, not to be presumed that they've moved out, so he makes a third note. A little ways further down the hallway he realizes somethings up. We almost never have a tenant forget to replace their lock when they've been in their units and now here's three, then a fourth, and now five. He looks around for the missing locks and doesn't see anything, the hallway is clear.

Now at the moment he's discovered this, I had been out on my morning walk with the dogs and was at the back gate, which has to be opened from inside the facility or by the computer in the office. Our usual procedure is for me to call him using our cell phone to let him know we were at the gate. I tried him for ten minutes. Clearly, the girls and I are not getting in this way, so we walk around the block to the front of the facility. I've neglected to bring my keys this time, so once we get their, if he's not answering the door, I'll have to let myself in through the front gate and walk around the facility to get the dogs into the apartment and then go find him. I'm trying not to imagine he's collapsed and dead somewhere, but that's the only reason I can think of for him not to answer my phone calls. When we get around to the front, I see him standing by the golf cart by the back gate, instant relief for me. He doesn't see me because he's looking for me from the other direction, but Maggie sees him and she runs to him. When I see his face, I can see something is wrong, not with him personally but he knows something I don't.

He says, he's found five units with their locks cut. We wonder to each other what could have happened, as we walk back to the apartment and back to the computer in the office. I access the gate program on the computer and search to find that none of these tenants were on the facility over the weekend. It appears that we had a break-in and there were five tenants whose units were broken into. My boss is off sick for the day, so I call her boss, who's taking calls for her. She's sick too and I feel awful for calling her, but I need to know what I should do. I don't want to set myself for blame but I want to protect my tenants. She tells me not to assume anything was taken till they come and verify anything is missing. So, I make the five toughest phone calls I think I'll every make. I tell the tenants we've had some vandalism on the facility and their unit is missing locks, I've put my own on them to protect the contents but when could they come down and verify that nothing is missing.

The first lady showed up, but thinks nothing is missing. So, she leaves. The second couple show up, stuff is missing, I call the police. While I'm waiting for the officer to show up another tenant arrives and opens her unit to find things are missing. Everyone complains that the contents of their unit have been gone through, but the couple are angry with me and tell me, they are moving out. I try not to take it personally, but if everybody is that upset that means I will have 5 new vacant units.

The officer arrives, I let him speak with the upset couple. The other tenant calls her fiance and asks him about a stereo that she can't find. She also files a report with the officer and leaves. The fifth tenant is elderly so he won't be coming immediately.

In front of the tenants I give very little information to the officer but I tell him I have some information which might be helpful. He does tell me, in front of the frustrated people that the local police department used to get called here all the time. I say, not in the years that I've been here and he agrees with me because I'm unfamiliar to him, and he says that's a good thing. (I'm glad about that because the angry people cooled off after he said that.)

So, he takes all the names and phone numbers, makes notes of missing items and gives me his cell number on a scrap of paper. Then he leaves. I thought he would be stopping to talk to me in my office but he didn't. I let it go at the time, because I think he'll come back or call me later. Nothing. I called on Tuesday and left a message, he doesn't return my call. On Wednesday, the fifth tenant, an elderly man, came, I called the officer again and left a message he doesn't return. The tenant said he didn't think there was anything missing anyway and, he hadn't been in the unit in years and didn't really know.

On Thursday, a different tenant came into my office after a short visit to her unit and says 'There's a lock on my unit that's not mine.' So, I lock up the office and go out there with her, in the meantime her husband arrives. It's not my policy to cut locks myself, even locks that have to be cut for auction are taken care of by a company employee sent out to take care of it. However, clearly they can't get into their unit because of this strange lock, I ask for permission to have my husband use whatever he might have to cut it. Once into the unit they realize a large chest of tools are missing, so I call the police again, first the previous officer (but I don't bother with the message on voicemail again) then dispatch for the department. They sent out another officer. I explain to him that we have had to cut the lock off this unit, we'd had some issues this week, but these tenants are missing items. While he's taking their statements, I look around to see if there are other locks like this one and find two more. When the officer is done I tell him what has been going on around here.

When I get back up to the office, I call the other tenants who's locks match this strange one. The officer has left but comes back when they verify that these locks aren't theirs either, and in fact he cut their locks with our tools. One of the ladies doesn't think anything is missing but gives her information and takes the new officer's business card. The other tenant says a chair is missing, so she gives information a files a report as well.

Now, I tell the officer directly and to the point that I know who the culprits are and I have the information, will he please come up to the office so I can show him which he does.

No one can enter my facility without using their own personal code. Each tenant has their own personal code. One of the codes for a unit in that hallway was on the facility for about 10 minutes on Saturday night, then came back for a half hour about mid-day on Sunday, about an hour at dinnertime and another 10 minutes before the gates close for the day. The time on the facility totals an hour and fifty minutes. The clincher is: They can't get into their own unit. A few months ago they became delinquent and we had to have our fellow cut the lock so that we could seal it and prepare to auction the unit. They brought the account up current, and were too busy to go to their unit with every payment each month after so that I could take my protective lock and the seal off the unit.

Which begs the question: Why be on the facility nearly two hours when you can't get into your own unit?

I also have a little personal information about these tenants. At one point in recent months the daughter wanted to transfer responsibility of the unit to the mother. However, mom didn't have a valid driver's license or state ID card. The daughter told me this was because she'd recently been incarcerated and the mom told me she didn't want to bother with the expense and hassle of getting a new one. So, I told the officer, I don't know what for but I know the mother has a record. He makes note of all the personal information he has on both ladies, photo copies of all my gate records which recorded that they or someone with their code entered the facility. The officer says he is off the next few days and will call me back on Monday when he is back at work.

I didn't wait for him to call me on Monday. We get to talking about that one unit we suspected things had been left behind. That tenant seemed pretty thorough and I was pretty sure we checked after he was gone that he'd vacated the unit. So, my Superman and I go out to look at the things in this unit. I notice there are some wicker chairs and think one of the tenants had said he was missing wicker chairs, but I didn't think these were the right ones because he said they had specific cushions on them and these didn't have any. We continue to look through the items and find an old driver's license for that first tenant that said 'nothing was missing' from her unit. We immediately stop what we're doing and call that officer, who comes back almost immediately. With rubber gloves on he goes through the contents very thoroughly looking for proof of who these things might belong to and looking for smudges that might be fingerprints, but only finds one as everything is pretty well textured and can't get a viable print off of anything. I stood there, wishing I could help but realized I'm as much of a suspect as anybody else, so just watched him do his thing.

He tells me that while he was off he found that both the mother and daughter are in the criminal system, meaning they are on parole and have officer's to report to. He also says the daughter's boyfriend was busted for possession of meth last month. He's also found a pawn ticket in this county that he's hoping to go check on soon.

By the time he's finished, I'm pretty well frozen, so I'm having hot tea at my desk when one of our favorite tenants come back from their unit. I go out to the parking lot to meet him because he appears upset, and he says there's a strange lock on his unit as well. My Superman went out there with him to confirm that he had the right unit (we couldn't have thought this was one of the same as the others as it was on the OUTSIDE of the same building), but he calls me on the cell and says it's another of those strange locks. The nice helpful officer came right back and they make a statement, too.

So, here's what I think happened. The people I suspect, (I won't call them tenants anymore, I'll explain in a minute) or someone they gave their personal codes to and the code to the interior door came on the facility that Saturday and see that it didn't do them any good because they can't get into their stuff. So, either out of vengeance or seeing what appears as an opportunity to get something for nothing, they go and purchase a bolt cutter or whatever tools they need and a package of four locks. The bolt cutter can't get them into their unit because I've put a protective lock on it, but it gets them into the unit directly to the left of theirs. Bingo! They find a stash of tools that might net them quite a bit of money from somebody. They find a few other power tools, close that unit and put one of their new locks on it. I'm not sure if they were thinking they might come back or that they will hit it again later. That was a great haul so they try the unit directly to the right, where it seems they only found a stereo and, for some reason, not worth one of their new locks. The try the unit directly across from theirs, realize it's smaller on that side of the hallway, put one of their locks on it, take nothing but don't touch anymore units over there. Now, they start skipping units or perhaps looking for locks easy to cut so they cut locks a few units away in either directions. I don't know in what order. One of the units way down the hallway is stuffed to the gills, so they take things from that unit and put in an empty unit across the way. After awhile of not finding anything they go outside. They realize that right next to where they parked their truck (I'm assuming it was a truck but it might have been a van, something large enough to fill with their booty) they see another lock they can cut like the ones inside the hallway. They get into that unit and take power washer, welder other tools.

What they fail to realize is that I can trace them, I can figure out who was on my facility any given day.

This has really taken it's toll on me though. I'm not sleeping well in the weeks since this all began. My tenants are my neighborhood and my community, mostly because I don't often get to leave the facility, or if I do, I'm only gone a short time, with a panic to get back and make sure all is well. So, I get to know everybody here pretty well. I see them when they come to make payments, if they are in and out during office hours, I watch to let them out and wave at them as they roll past my office window. I make sure there's chocolate on my counter for them, for some reason, that by itself has made people slow down and visit more and seem to become friendlier. I've had problems letting anybody else sit at my desk, even my husband for fear they will not get the same results they get from me.

That's going to be an issue when I need time off. How in the world am I supposed to leave for vacation this summer, if I can't let myself allow somebody else to take care of my people? And I MUST go on vacation because this will be my first opportunity to meet my husband's grandchildren, kids I've spoken to on the phone several times and who always call me 'Grandma' in those conversations and in their notes.

With these particular people though, these culprits, they have completely broken my trust. I am so upset with them on so many levels. After a week, they have not bothered to call and ask why they are locked out of their own unit, which makes it obvious now that there must be some guilty things going on. So, I've sent them eviction notices. I can't have them here anymore. Not for me, not for my tenants. It just can't stay the same.

My husband is worried though. I didn't specify a reason for them to go in these eviction notices. So, if anything is said as to 'why?' I'll just have to play just as stupid and find an excuse.

Which also makes me feel less than human. Hopefully not for long.

UPDATE: I didn't originally post this because it was written after several nights of little to no sleep. I thought I might delete some of it or change it, but after all this time, I can't change any of it.

The people I suspected have finally moved out. The mother kept coming in here to plead for anything she could get, but in the end, her begging just made me want her gone more urgently. When we finally allowed them access to their unit, she rode in the backseats of different vehicles crouched down or laying on the seat so as not to be seen. Yeah. I'm not understanding that. I just wanted her to get in, get her stuff and get out.

I did have to do a little extra work to contact the facilities in my company around me, to prevent this from happening to my 'co-workers'. With the information given to me by the helpful officer, I stressed how bad a situation like this could be, that I hoped they could avoid leasing any space to them. They did attempt to lease from these facilities, without success, using other phony names. Thankfully, because of laws that have been instituted after 9-11, nobody can lease any storage units legally without valid ID.

This whole episode has made me very anxious about leaving the facility for any length of time or for any reason. I'm constantly checking the gate logs recorded in the computer, much more time spent at my desk even in off hours. We have made reservations for a couple of different getaways but I can't focus on them. When I do, the stomach gets tight and the headaches start. I have come up with several reasons to tell my husband leaving is not a good idea, and in a typically male way, he comes up with solutions for each of my objections and walks away thinking he's solved it. I wish I could make him hear what I'm saying. We got in a huge fight about a week ago about this, because in order to take a vacation, we have to leave the facility in charge of a relief person. I reserved a temp the company has listed, we have not met him. My boss is happy because he can get through the paperwork to her satisfaction, but he won't know what to keep on the watch for particular to this place.

What seems incredible to me to admit is that, although this could have been so much worse, for me this was pretty bad. I cannot stop thinking about it and needing to go lookout on things. As for everything else, I often wish I could just be left alone to do my best with what I have. I know I don't need more, and I could be happy.

1 comment:

  1. I think you need to take your vacation, it makes is hard to separate work from your personal life when you live on site. I know that you are doing your job to make your work a save and friendly enviroment for your customers and that most of the do apriecate your efforts, but honestly you need to get away from it and take the vacation and get your mind off of it and enjoy meeting and getting to know your grandkids. I know that you are taking this break in personally, really too personally because it is keeping you up at night and upsetting you enough to make you feel physical ill. Remember this is just stuff that they are storing, stuff. Most stuff is replacable, and if someone had something that wasn't they probably wouldn't have it in storage. The best that you can do is walk your property like you and M were already doing and encourage your clients to secure they units with better locks. Sometimes when we have problems like this at work we send out a notice too everyone asking them to be more alert when on property and to make sure their units and personal items are secure. Maybe encourage them in the note to make sure they have good locks on their units. It's better to be right out there and open to them about what happened then for them to hear about it thru rumors, you don't have to give details about the break in. Please take your vacation and enjoy yourself whenever your off site. You don't want to be like Dori and hide away in your crate all the time, it's not healthy.