Although we have been plagued with crime for long enough, the time has really come that we draw the line. What we must realise and accept first and foremost, is that the government is neither interested nor capable of bringing crime under control. We can have endless arguments about why not, but it is not going to help.
We all need to take responsibility for the situation. But just to first clarify “responsibility”. If somebody leaves a baby on your doormat, it is up to you to decide what to do with the baby. Obviously the reasonable person would call the police immediately, but for the sake of this hypothetical example, you can (and have to) decide what to do with the baby. Whether you have not asked for the baby to be left there, you will assume responsibility for the baby. Therefore, to say that we must assume responsibility for the crime situation, does not imply that it is our fault – simply that we must exercise our options in order to resolve the problem. We must take control of it. This does not imply mob justice and that we should arm ourselves to the teeth with guns – but rather that we need to strategise and fight this epidemic collectively and on a mental level.
We have to accept that each and every one of us is a potential target. Whether we like it or not. And it does not matter how good you think your security situation might be, you remain at risk. The first step in assuming a mental approach is to EXPECT to become a victim of crime. This does not mean that you should live in fear all the time – quite the opposite; if you live with this expectation you can take preventative measures. Rather be ready than to be surprised.
There are many types of crimes, but relative to the more prevalent and concerning crimes, there are two types: 1) While still not justifiable, many crimes happen without planning – let’s call it crimes of opportunity. For example, somebody walks past an open gate and sees the opportunity to enter the premises and then commits a crime. 2) Then there are the cases where there is some level of planning – where, for example, a household or farm is identified and studied – and they plan how they would go about committing the crime.
There are many practical steps that each and every citizen can take, but first we have to meet and beat the criminals on a mental level. While there may be a combination of opportunity and planned crimes, in the end they exploit our weak spots. When they invade your space, it is because they believe they can. They are less likely to come there if they know it is impossible to intrude, or if the risks are really high. Saying that, risk is not necessarily a big deterrent – but criminals generally want to get the most they can in the easiest way. To make it hard (or rather impossible) for them to intrude/operate, is the ideal.
This all sounds really logical and obvious. Yet we still see so many incidents which in hindsight we feel could have been prevented. (Note, this is not to blame anyone, but we have to learn from past incidents.) The best we can do is to think like criminals do, in order to protect ourselves.
- Thoroughly assess your security situation. Where are weak spots that could potentially be exploited? Remember, you are not in your house or office the whole day, and wherever you are, you are at risk.
- Criminals act on predictability. If they know you leave your house at, say, 7 o’clock every morning, they can plan their activities around that – either to act as you drive out or to enter the house after you had left. Try to vary your schedule. This may not always be so easy practically, but at least be aware of the fact that your schedule may be a factor in their planning.
- If you hear any suspicious or strange sounds outside the house during the night, do not leave the house. It could be a ploy to get you outside. Rather call security services or the police to check things out.
- There are some pros and cons of leaving lights on. Some argue that criminals can now see inside the house. It is perhaps best to leave a light on somewhere in the house, where there is no direct sight into the house. Better even to have time-switches – i.e. switching some lights on and off at certain but unpredictable times – to create the impression of presence and activity.
- Most crimes happen in the dark and light is certainly a good deterrent. However, it is not practical and cost effective to leave it on outside the whole time. But it becomes effective when linked with activity sensors.
- It is generally accepted that security cameras serve as a good deterrent, but then the cameras must be visible – otherwise it means very little deterrent-wise. Out of reach not to be damaged or eliminated, it must be clearly visible and in their face. Yes, if it records a criminal activity it could serve as evidence later or may help to apprehend the perpetrators, but then the damage has been done already. Practically difficult, but the ideal is to act when there is activity on the camera – then the deed can be stopped by calling security or the police in time. It can help to put a monitor somewhere in the house where it can be observed easily at certain intervals or when an alarm was triggered, so that you can quickly see what is going on.
- While improving, the problem with many CCTV cameras is the poor footage quality. In this day and age and if we look at the good quality footage of even cheap cellphones’ cameras, it is hard to understand why these cameras’ footage is still so poor. In some cases identification becomes impossible. Rather pay a bit more but get good cameras. Make sure that the camera/s are functional and that they are placed at the most obvious points of risk.
- In a neighbourhood, form clusters of, say, 6 houses (i.e. three this side of the street and three on the other side), and form a WhatsApp group, which includes all members of the households in the cluster. If there is a potential problem, the cluster members can be notified immediately via the group.
- While there may be such groups on Facebook already, each neighbourhood or town should have a Facebook page – where information about crime trends and incidents are posted.
- In a smaller town, a good idea is for the whole town to be part of one WhatsApp group. Somebody must just take the initiative to form the group and then invite citizens to join. Advertise it in the local paper or on supermarkets’ billboards. Businesses can even be asked to promote joining of the group – such as offering special prices on certain items when somebody joins the group (so they collect the numbers and add it to the group). Imagine somebody’s car gets stolen and he/she can immediately send out on the WhatsApp group – “my car has just been stolen – red Ford sedan, registration AB123 – be on the lookout”. This can also work very well for farm communities/wards.
- Although the ideal is to prevent crimes, contingency plans should be in place for when they do happen. Discuss the crime situation with your family and work out plans in case of an intrusion. Compile a list of safety measures and put it up somewhere in the house to encourage preventative actions (e.g. regarding alarms, the locking of doors, etc.). Also, what physical actions should be taken when an intrusion is suspected – like for everyone to go to a certain room with a safety door. It is also a good idea to have a section of your house which cannot be entered at all except through one security gate, at, say, the entrance of a passage leading to the rooms. Keep that gate locked at all times during the night. Remember, your life is more important than house items.
- Place panic buttons throughout the house.
- Always report crimes. How insignificant it may seem or even if you think that the police are not going to do much about it. Even just the statistic can help to establish trends that can be used in crime intelligence.
- When a crime took place – such as after an intrusion into your house or car – take the most necessary steps to ensure you and your loved one’s safety but try not to disturb the scene or evidence. One fingerprint can help to land somebody in jail.
- When you give statements, be concise and clear, and if you did not write it out yourself, make sure to read it thoroughly before signing it. You don’t want to be tripped up later when the case lands up in court. Although we rather want to prevent crime, we must make sure that those that do happen, are resolved and that criminals end up behind bars.
- We may think it is our good right to walk or drive wherever we want to whenever we want to. That may be so, but criminals took that right away. There are certain things that one should simply not do in this day and age. Avoid walking or driving around late at night, especially in questionable areas. Avoid dark and out-of-sight areas. Do not flash belongings around. Wherever you park your vehicle do not leave any valuable items visible. Parking in side-streets are usually more risky.
- Be very attentive at ATMs, always, day or night but especially during the night – and more so if remote. Trust nobody that offers to help you – unless members of the bank (just make sure of them too).
- It happens to the best of us, but you do not want to run out of fuel in a high risk area. You are a sitting duck – and you are also at high risk if you leave your car. While more difficult to control, breakdowns and flat tyres can also impose high risks.
- A very important point: If you are not on a contract – make sure you always have airtime when you go on the road. You need to be able to call for help whenever there’s a problem.
- We must not think that when it comes to “small crimes” that there are bigger ones to rather be concerned about. New York reduced their overall crime rate drastically by clamping down on small, petty crimes. These petty crimes create a culture of lawlessness – which creates a climate for bigger crimes. Order creates more order.
- This is not a call against guns – but there have been so many instances of mistaken identity – where, for example, a family member has been killed by accident. Stray bullets can cause collateral damage and criminals can even use your own weapon against you. Laws are also tricky and you instead of the criminal may end up with trouble in the end. Guns may form part of a prevention and protection strategy – but they are not the silver bullet when it comes to preventing crime.
- Dogs are obviously good deterrents and protectors, but it is important to know that they are not insurmountable. Do not rely on them only to keep you safe. They should also form part of an integrated strategy. The same goes for electric fences.
- Ironically, the more walls we build to keep criminals out, the less we can see them. Criminals operate within a maze of walls that can actually greatly assist them, i.e. a fleeing criminal can easily hide or disappear out of sight behind a wall, they can launch an attack or hijack from behind a wall, etc. Walls are obviously strong structures and in cases part of the aesthetics – but perhaps we should go back to open spaces (i.e. see-through fences) where we can see what is going on outside our yards and in our streets (and from outside inwards) – and that the criminals know that we can see them. These days there are really good see-through fences available.
- We have become so desensitised to crime that we hardly hear or take note of the alarms and gunshots out there anymore, even those close to us. As long as it is not your house or car’s alarm, we tend not to care much. However, we need to stay alert and vigilant – and we need to watch out for each other. Tomorrow you may well need the help that you can give somebody today. (E.g.: If you see somebody parking his car in a side-street were you know break-ins occur regularly, warn them about the risk. Tomorrow somebody may warn you about a possible risk elsewhere.) We are in this together.
This list is not supposed to be exhaustive and will remain a work in progress. The idea is to create a list of crime hotspots and trends – so that we can inform each other.
You may have noted that while some practical tips are provided, this initiative really aims to rather promote a mental, strategic and integrated approach, were proactive action is taken. Hope is a good thing, but, like in business too, the thing that makes the difference is action – to execute strategies. And so often it is the small actions that make the difference in the end. We are not going to hope this problem away. Action needs to be taken, now! We have to be proactive instead of reactive. We have to tire the criminals out and break their spirits instead of them breaking ours.
(Let’s get some perspective on the the difference even a small percentage drop in the crime rate can make. But first, imagine all of us can raise our preventative mindset with 20% – and this results in only a 5% drop in crime. If we take 2018’s stats, where there were about 2 million reported crimes, then a 5% drop can result in 100 000 less crimes per year.)
— Compiled and moderated by Thomas Mollett
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