January 19 2008 at 11:49AM
The main reason people move into supposedly secure residential estates or complexes is to escape crime. But the latest crime statistics indicate that house robberies with aggravated circumstances are on the increase behind these walled-off, guarded and supposedly secure residential areas.
And experts say that part of the problem might be that residents are lulled into a false sense of security and forget basic safety principles.
Danie Bantjes, chief operating officer of Top Security, says his company has come across houses inside estates and complexes where the front doors, gates or garage doors are left wide open throughout the night.
Staff have also had instances where people have gone out for the evening - and even on holiday - leaving doors open or not activating their alarm systems.
'It has taken time for me to talk about it'
When confronted, their response is normally "But we're living in a secure estate and the guards and neighbours will look after our property. We're safe and we're paying for this."
Victims of this chilling new trend are Lynne Katz and her family from Atholl, north-east of Joburg, who survived a terrifying two-hour ordeal after robbers broke into their home inside a security complex. Her husband Jay was stabbed 15 times and they threatened to kill her baby Ethan, aged 15 months.
The robbers had entered their home through an open windows after managing to get over the complex's electric fence.
Although the attack took place late last year, Katz is still undergoing treatment to help her deal with the trauma.
"It has taken time for me to talk about it, but I feel strongly that victims of crime must speak out so that others can know what's happening," Katz explains.
'Statistics show that this type of crime still happens regularly'
"We're very lucky to be alive; they could have raped me, and Jay could have died. This isn't a good reflection on our country," said Katz, adding: "But I won't be driven out of my home. I still believe South Africa has so much potential."
The family's ordeal began just before midnight when Katz, who had just fallen asleep, woke up and saw five men in her bedroom.
"They had our kitchen knives in their hands, I knew it was going to be a long night."
She says one man jumped on top of her and another jumped on top of her husband, stabbing him several times, while three of the men tied them both up with computer cables.
"They knew exactly what they were doing because they went directly to our walk-in closet where we keep most of our valuables," said Katz.
"They ransacked the place and took clothes, jewellery and Jay's gun. Then they wanted the key for the safe. We told them that it was in the closet. I offered to help look for it - but we couldn't find it."
The men didn't believe her and threatened to kill her baby - but they couldn't get inside the infant's room as the night nurse had barricaded the door by pushing a couch against it.
Then the robbers demanded an iron because they wanted to torture Katz and her husband.
"They terrorised us for two hours. They had a smoke in our room and then they dragged me downstairs because they wanted alcohol. I was trying to be as helpful as I could to draw attention away from my bleeding husband and our baby and night nurse."
She managed to distract them by pouring them drinks and offering more valuables.
"I just wanted them out of the house. I was prepared to do anything, give them anything they wanted. They asked for our car keys, which I gave them and even explained how the remotes worked - that number one is for the garage door and number two is for the entrance gate."
But when they couldn't start Jay's BMW, they asked Lynne to do it for them.
"I had only started that car once before. I wasn't sure if I could do it again. But thank God it started. I just wanted them to leave."
At that stage the night nurse went onto the balcony of the baby's room and screamed as loudly as she could, which alerted the neighbours and scared off the robbers.
Within minutes of being summoned, the couple's security company and the police arrived. Two of the robbers were caught hiding under some bushes just metres from the complex.
It was later established that the attackers were friends of the son of their former domestic worker, who had died. He was also arrested for masterminding the robbery.
Bantjes warns residents of walled estates and security complexes not to believe they are immune from driveway robberies.
"Sadly, our statistics show that this type of crime still happens regularly within security estates and even complexes. People in security estates seem to be less vigilant when approaching their homes than those on the outside. There's also often no control over the movement of strangers inside estates," he said.
Another modus operandi is for criminals to rent properties within secure complexes and then take their time to observe properties before striking.
"Criminals have been discovered moving into quite a few of the more affluent estates by either renting units or even buying properties. For obvious reasons this poses a serious threat to the security of the community inside the estate."
eBlockwatch founder Andre Snyman said most robberies at complexes are reported by people who live north of Joburg.
"What we've found is that the security guards placed at the gates of these complexes aren't deterrents for robbers. They know that the guard isn't going to risk his own life," he said.
Gauteng police spokesperson Director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said that although police had not seen a recent increase in house robberies at complexes, residents should be vigilant.
"People must not be complacent about safety issues. They must also be extra careful about who they employ to clean their houses and do their gardening. We encourage residents to call the police immediately if they notice suspicious people hanging around their complexes."
Tips to safeguard your home:
According to crime statistics, house robberies have increased by 7 percent. Here are some tips to safeguard your home and your family:
Be familiar with the response company who manages the security for your complex.
Ensure you have the number of your security provider programmed into the speed dial on your cellphone.
Advise them if you're expecting visitors but instruct them never to allow anyone into your premises without your permission.
If you feel you're being followed, drive to the nearest police station or service station where there are other people around.
Make sure the security personnel at the gate of the complex are aware if your house alarm is triggered.
Remember that cheap security is no security. Don't regard security as a cost - a good security approach can reduce your insurance premiums.
In addition, take a broad view of security - the more you integrate your approach, the more you save and the better your security will be.
Don't rely on an alarm sounder only. An alarm without a response is just a noise - ensure that your alarm is monitored.
Make sure your security provider has updated records of your correct contact details and those of your keyholders.
Use your burglar alarm to its full potential. Your burglar alarm should be properly managed and checked on a regular basis to ensure it is fully operational.
Create a "safe area" in your home.
Install adequate lighting.
Install outside lights that can be remotely controlled from inside the house and the alarm system. Consider installing lighting activated by a motion detector.
Programme your phone with the number of the complex's gatehouse security before going to bed. Dial the number and hang up before the call is answered. This will give you a time advantage, as all you then need to do is press the redial button.
Increase your view - high walls and hedges obscure the view of the property.
Don't assume it always happens to someone else. Always be prepared.
Source: Chubb Security
This article was originally published on page 7 of The Star on January 19, 2008