We all know the basics of home security. South Africans, after all, have faced high crime levels for years.
Police statistics for 2015-16 show that 250 606 home burglaries were recorded, down 1.2% from the previous year, but still meaning on average 686.6 houses were burgled each day. Worse, house robberies increased 2.7% from 2014-15 to 2015-16. That’s an average of 57 homes each day.
There’s no better way to protect your home, and your loved ones, than to think like a thief. Look at your property as though you were casing it for burglary or robbery, and remember:
Think before you speak, or click
Burglars and robbers most often spend some time “casing the joint” before they strike. That can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two weeks. We should know by now not to let unexpected and unidentified workers onto our properties, but watch what you say when workers you have called in are in your home.
The chap laying the carpet is most likely a hard-working guy, but he could be moonlighting as a burglar, or earning a few bucks on the side selling information. Don’t have loud conversations about your upcoming holiday while he’s there, and check windows and doors when he’s gone – he could have unlocked them for later.
Also, be careful about live location settings and “checking in” via social media – it’s a great advertisement as to your whereabouts. While you’ve checked in to the pub down the road, burglars might have checked into your home. A burglary is quick: most last eight to 12 minutes.
Mix things up a bit
Burglars and robbers love people with predictable schedules, burglars so that they know when you are not there, robbers so that they can hit you when you are most vulnerable. For most that’s just after you’ve come home for the evening – you’re cooking, the radio or TV’s on, you’ve opened the doors and windows and you are distracted. Most home invasions happen between 7pm and 11pm. Another optimal time for a burglar is during the working and school day.
Don’t put your jewellery in a jewellery box in the main bedroom, be sneaky – a plastic container on a kitchen shelf, a toy box in the children’s bedroom. A decoy jewellery box with costume jewellery in it is a good idea, as it gives the impression there is nothing more of valuable available. The same can be said for having two safes, one a more easily found decoy. Criminals don’t like to get into attics as they can become trapped there should security officials arrive.
Don’t sell yourself down the river
If you are selling your home, check doors and windows at the end of a show day in case anyone unlatched them. Make sure the estate agent never lets anyone walk around alone.
Also, if you are allowing an agent to upload to their website pictures of the exterior and interior of your home, think carefully about what is on display. Thieves and robbers can make their shopping lists, and figure out weak points that will allow them access to your property.
When you place panic buttons in your home, think like a criminal. Apart from doorways, put these where you will be able to reach them if you are held up. People, especially men, are often held in a bathroom. Also put them in the lounge, under chairs or tables and under beds in the bedrooms.
Check your criminal
University of South Africa criminologist Rudolph Zinn’s 2010 book, Home Invasion: Robbers Disclose What You Should Know, sets out what he learned from interviewing 30 people convicted of “aggravated robbery” (in which violence was committed) at residences. All but two were men aged 19 to 26, 80% had no military or security-related training. This is what they had to say about choosing a target:
- The victims were targeted for their perceived wealth only.
- Residential robbery was chosen for the high returns, and low chances of being caught. (The conviction rate is below 10%).
- Sometimes people with expensive jewellery, clothes or other visible signs of wealth were followed home, the assumption being there would be more expensive things available there.
- The most common way to access a property was to break in by forcing locks, breaking windows or disabling electric fences. Beware of a fence alarm going off repeatedly – criminals sometimes set them off like this in the hope you will switch them off. Also, watch security at party time – some said they took advantage of social occasions, when perimeter security can be lax.
- Of the people interviewed, 68% said perimeter security put them off, and 32% internal security. That’s because once they have got onto the property, they often have the advantage of surprise (and fear), leaving you with fewer defence options.
As in winter, layer
Lastly, the criminals Prof Zinn interviewed said layers of security were off-putting. Start with the perimeter and work inwards. Put alarms in garages or storerooms, employ an armed response company, ensure there is an open view to your garden and install security lights and motion sensors, CCTV and intercom systems, strong doors and security gates. Even simple things like closing the curtains at night help.