How robbers and burglars operate

2015-05-23 10:22
A locked gate outside a house in Pietermaritzburg.

A locked gate outside a house in Pietermaritzburg. (Jonathan Burton)

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WITH the hunt on for both the remaining four of the Doorbell Gang and the heavily armed robbers from the Mountain Rise gang attack on Thursday night still on, knowing just how burglars and robbers operate is important to protect both your family and your home.

Suspected of involvement in over 80 burglaries across Pietermaritzburg, the Doorbell Gang is believed to have ransacked locals’ homes in just a few minutes over a period of 18 months.

Professor Rudolph Zinn, author of Home Invasion: Robbers Disclose What You Should Know, interviewed convicted burglars and robbers on what they looked for when targeting a house and what then prevented them from entering a house.

“Burglary is the biggest crime hitting neighbourhoods. There are over 240 000 burglaries every year in South Africa,” said Zinn, speaking to Weekend Witness.

“Most burglaries take place during the day when people are at work. They will usually pick a neighbourhood and go from house to house, ringing doorbells or intercoms to see if anyone is home.

“They want to get in and out as quickly as possible so any noise, like dogs on the property, would act as a deterrent.”

He said burglars tried to avoid houses with low walls, or fences you could see through from the street as they wanted to be able to work undisturbed and unnoticed.

“Sliding doors are an easy way for burglars to get into the house. All they have to do is lift it up off its rails and they are inside the house.”

Robbers, however, are a different breed of criminal.

“These men are very violent and have said in interviews with me that they are willing to use lethal force.

“They scout a neighbourhood to see how tight the security is. A patrol or neighbourhood watch factors in 68% on whether they go in or not, so having a good neighbourhood watch in the area can be a major deterrent.”

He said that 77% of the robbers he interviewed said they had help from a source inside the house — a domestic worker, a gardener or a building contractor.

“They want to know the layout of the house, where the safe is, and what the security system is like so they can get in and out as quickly as possible.

“These men go for cash and jewellery, things that do not have serial numbers and cannot be linked back to the crime scene.”

Zinn said robbers were less likely to hit a home that had a perimeter alarm as they said it gave the home owner more time to arm themselves and call police.

He added that robbers usually went into houses between 4 pm and 11 pm as people were at home and did not have their alarms set yet.

He said people who advertised home businesses or that they were selling a car were often targeted as burglars and robbers expected them to have large amounts of money in their homes.

Former SAPS member and founder of Safe City Pietermaritburg Lucas Holtzhausen said people must secure all garden equipment after use. Spades, picks and axes could be used to attack you. “The tidier the premises is, the less likely it will attract attention.”

Holtzhausen compiled a list of pointers to keep yourself and your family safe:

• Be alert.

• Keep emergency numbers close by.

• Keep security gates locked.

• Ask for identification if somebody presents himself as a municipal, Eskom or SAPS official.

• Pretend that there is someone in the house with you, especially when you are alone.

• Maintain good communication with your neighbours, community watch and local CPF.

Rob Anderson from Red Alert Security said homeowners should migrate away from the analogue intercom systems toward the new digital equipment that uses technology to connect the caller to the homeowner’s cellphone, thereby ensuring a positive answer to any caller.

“This strategy can mitigate the risk of intruders using the gate intercom system to establish whether a home is occupied or not.

“Criminals use many guises to fool household members and gain intelligence about the property or the state of occupancy.

“A growing modern trend is to add digital CCTV cameras that can be interfaced with an alarm system to ensure reliable recordings of actual events.

“Most of these systems have remote viewing capabilities via mobile phones, tablets and PCs. The outdoor cameras are yet another valuable tool in protecting a property and can lead to positive arrests.

“The most important piece of advice is security systems should always be on. The number of break-ins that occur when alarms are turned off is staggering.

Knight Security founder Debbie Preston compiled a list of things to do and watch out for in preventing a robbery or burglary:

•A buzzer installed on your gate which alerts you to your gate being opened.

•Clear vegetation on your verge so that criminals cannot hide or be concealed.

•Report anything suspicious to your local security service provider.

•Look out for your neighbours.

•Alert your domestic workers to be more aware when they are home alone. Don’t leave doors wide open. They also compromise their own safety. A remote panic button is an option for them to keep on them should they encounter a problem.

•Learn to identify self defence tools within your environment: a book, a knife, an aerosol spray, an ornament, fire extinguisher

•Close your curtains early evening so that your movements cannot be monitored.

•Don’t have bushes near the entrance and exits to your home.

•Do regular spot checks on your fencing / gates / entrances

•Dogs are a deterrent – keep them inside as a pre-warning

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