Gated communities are scattered all over the United States, especially in the American Sunbelt, including Arizona, Florida, California, and Texas. The previous decade has seen an enormous rise in the development of these gated communities, mainly due to the added security that the gates and walls offer to the residents. With extra security measures such as passcodes, key cards, and gate attendants, it certainly has added precautions to lower crime rates by a substantial margin.
Are gated communities safer? Although there’s no concrete data that proves gated communities are considerably low-crime compared to non-gated communities, research reveals that there is less burglary.
Other crimes such as bullying and violent assaults have an increased risk in a gated community, especially since victims are “locked-in” with the offenders. But before we rush to conclusions, it’s important to note that there are different kinds of gated communities that have various security measures in place.
Let’s take a more in-depth look into what gated communities are, what they offer, the possible risks of living in one, and what homeowners can do to make their homes more secure.
What Are Gated Communities?
Gated communities are residential areas that have restricted access. Public spaces inside these communities are privatized. The presence of walls and gates enclosing the perimeter is the main feature of a gated community, hence the name. With these physical barriers in place, there’s a controlled entrance that prevents nonresidents from going in. Having clearly defined boundaries allows access to only verified individuals.
Aside from the fences, additional security measures might also be present. Security guards, surveillance cameras, and personal codes for homeowners are standard. In some upper-class areas, gated communities may even have motion detectors, canine patrols, armed guards, and high-end alarm systems. All these mechanisms allow additional protection to the residents within the community from potential outside crimes.
On a lighter note, gated communities also provide various amenities to their residents. Pools, restaurants, sports facilities, gyms, parks, children’s play areas, golf courses, and others may be available.
Furthermore, residents of gated communities form some sort of private government where they elect their own boards for protecting shared community interests. Usually, this is called the Homeowners Association (HOA). They are responsible for arranging various municipal services that the community needs, such as garbage collection and maintenance. Elected members of the HOA also assume administrative roles, forming and implementing specific regulations and standards for all residents to follow to maintain peace and order within the community. The HOA also puts specific protocols when settling disputes between residents.
Gated Communities and Safety
The development of gated communities in the US has seen a staggering increase over the years, with more than 3 million units already existing in 1997. According to the 2001 American Housing Survey, the population of gated communities hit the 7 million mark. What more today, at almost two decades later?
Indeed, gated communities may be the fastest-growing urban phenomenon. Families continue to flock to them, primarily because of safety and security reasons. In gated communities, parents may feel safer in allowing their kids to play freely on the grounds, even at night. Residents may also have an added sense of safety from intruders because of being inside the walls. Plus, the regulations and systems put up by HOAs make for an increased sense of community and solidarity.
Safety Inside Gated Communities
Research published in Justice Quarterly in 2013 revealed that although burglary may be minimized in US gated communities, the risk of other crimes such as intimate partner violence, assault, and bullying is increased. In the paper, it is said that “… gated communities do lower the odds of experiencing a residential burglary even when controlling for housing unit factors such as tenure, income, and geographical location as well as individual characteristics such as age [and] race.”
It’s essential to ask the question: Why are gated communities not substantially safer than non-gated communities, even with the added security measures? Let’s take a look at the potential factors.
Risks and Realities of Living in Gated Communities
Yes, gated communities have significant benefits, including the extra amenities that provide recreation and convenience to residents. Security measures do add safety, but there are also several risks, some of which involve the residents themselves. Here are a few of the factors that may be defeating the cause of extra safety that gated communities supposedly provide:
- Complacent homeowners. When residents think about the walls and gates surrounding the community perimeter, they may become careless in their own home’s security. Leaving windows open and doors unlocked is a possibility since the owners are confident that no criminals will be able to pass through the gates. Thus, residents take the lazy approach due to the false sense of security that the gates provide. Offenders probably know this, making them more inclined to trespass your home.
- Rich image. Gated communities give off the impression of exclusivity and affluence. Iron gates and walls do make a statement that the people living inside are wealthy and well-off. After all, it would be easy to think that if people were flocking to more secure communities, they must have a lot of money and valuables that need protection. This thinking makes homes in gated communities a potential goldmine for thieves. Thus, offenders may be more attracted to burglarize homes because of the idea that there are more money and valuables to steal.
Other Risks of Living in Gated Communities
- Homeowners go out a lot. Thieves may take advantage of a family that goes on vacation. A little snooping and some detective work on the family makes the home prey for crimes such as burglary. When the offenders have confirmed that the homeowners are going to be away for a couple of days, robbers can easily enter a home and loot the valuables. You might want to think again before posting your vacation plans on social media. Wait until you get home before you upload those vacation photos.
- The gates do not guarantee protection. In truth, there are many ways in which nonresidents may get inside a gated community. While it’s not to say that these people bear ill will, it’s challenging to determine which ones do have hostile motives. One way that intruders can pass through the gates is by closely following the car in front of them which has access to the community. Cars can easily “piggyback” on residents’ cars, especially with unmanned gates. If they have security guards though, the risk might be that they may not be checking or verifying credentials at all, loosely letting cars inside.
Gated Community Passcodes
Another way that outsiders can enter gated communities is when residents give up their passcodes to other people. These may include friends and family who visit often. Furthermore, homeowners may also divulge their codes to technicians, contractors, vendors, delivery personnel, and other people to whom they want to grant access for the sake of convenience. This allows more people to get inside, obtain your passcode, and disclose it to others who might also target your entire neighborhood.
- Limited access in case of emergencies. One of the criticisms of gated communities is that it’s hard for emergency personnel to get inside swiftly and urgently. With security measures, it may not be as easy for firefighters, ambulances, and police to enter a gated community. Rescue workers may need to rummage through a bag to find the right key that will open unmanned gates. This consumes unnecessary time that may have been critical in an emergency. So yes, it’s entirely possible that a pizza delivery guy who knows your passcode can freely cross the gates, but not the paramedics who can save your life.
- Do you know everyone in the community? It’s essential to keep in mind that gates not only keep people out, they also keep people in. It’s hard to confirm that all individuals in a gated community are law-abiding citizens. Get to know your neighbors so you can look out for each other.
How to Make Your Gated Community Safer
Here are a few actions you can take to keep you and your neighborhood safe from crimes:
- Install home security systems.
- Ensure that all doors and windows are locked for the night.
- Participate in a neighborhood watch.
Are Gated Communities Safer?
Security and safety are the primary reasons why families flock to gated communities. However, research indicates crime rates are not significantly lower in gated areas when compared to non-gated ones. Nevertheless, the added security measures provided by gated communities do make a difference, but this also depends on the level of security. Ultimately, it’s still crucial for every homeowner to take their own steps for safety.