As holiday makers from around the country and world flock to coastal cities like Durban during the festive season, ordinary crime management and prevention measures are no longer sufficient. Hotels fill to capacity, shopping centres swarm with families, and public places like entertainment strips and beaches become hives of busy – and often chaotic, activity. Yet while people in the festive holiday spirit often let down their guards as they finally relax after a long year, criminals from throughout the country head to these holiday cities to take advantage of the extra opportunities.
Festive Season Crime Prevention Responsibility
Hospitality and retail management, as well as police and security service providers, prepare for this influx of visitors by increasing staff and implementing additional security systems and crime prevention measures. However, the onus is also on residents and tourists to be more vigilant and take better precautions. Often well-planned and highly anticipated holiday breaks are marred by incidents of crime, and 99% of the time these crimes could have been avoided.
SHOPPING CENTRE SAFETY
Before even heading out to shopping centres, people need to start taking precautions, ensuring that they are sufficiently safeguarded the minute they drive into the parking lot.
- Locking vehicles upon exit:
Remote jamming is a popular and simple modus operandi for breaking into and stealing vehicles. Remote jammers, armed with a device which blocks the signal from your car remote to the doors, gather inconspicuously in parking lots, constantly emitting vehicles’ remote locking signals. Once motorists have left they are then able to quickly and easily gain entry to vehicles without forcibly breaking in. Shoppers are therefore urged to physically check their vehicles’ doors are locked after remote-locking them.
- Keep valuables out of view:
Windows should be closed completely and all visible items of value, including shopping parcels, iPads, cellphones, and sunglasses, should be stored are out of sight. Leaving them visible only creates temptation.
- Storing items in car boots:
It is recommended that shoppers who make use of their vehicle boots to safe-keep valuable items such as handbags, computers, cameras, and iPads, place these items in their boots before arriving at their destinations. Too often people park their vehicles and then load their valuables into the boot for safekeeping, unaware of the presence of criminals discreetly taking notice of all activity. Although people believe that their car boots will keep their valuables secure, they forget that boots can be opened from inside the vehicle, either by pulling a lever or entering via the back seat. All it takes is a criminal to gain entry to your vehicle and the safety of your valuables is compromised.
- Keep handbags closed and close:
Pick-pockets take advantage of increased, and often stressed, crowds in shopping centres. Shoppers, particularly women, should keep their handbags on their person at all times and ensure they are closed. Handbags left in trolleys are temptation for observant criminals waiting for people to get distracted. In some cases they work in syndicates, with some members causing distractions and others stealing handbags. It only takes a shopper looking away or leaving a trolley unattended for a few seconds for a criminal to strike.
- Carrying cash and cards:
Where possible shoppers should not carry more cash than is needed for that particular shopping trip. In the event that money is stolen, it will not necessarily be the end of the holiday. It is also recommended that people keep their cash and cards separate – either in different pockets or held by different family members. Again, this will ensure that if someone is a victim of crime they have not lost all their financial resources for that holiday.
- Be vigilant:
Escalators are the perfect place for criminals to steal bags or items out of bags. The height escalation gives criminals the opportunity to steal out of handbags sling over women’s shoulders. The fact that someone is able to stand close behind shoppers on escalators makes this modus operandi even easier to pull off. The same applies to lifts. People should always be aware of distractions and keep their attention on their parcels at all times. It is incredibly easy for a pick-pocket to deliberately bump into someone and steal something. People should also stop the habit of giving strangers their cellphones or cameras to snap their group holiday pictures as often those items are stolen.
- Drawing cash from ATMs:
Shoppers are urged to avoid using ATMs in quiet or secluded areas, such as on the outsides of shopping centres. They should also not draw money at odd hours of the morning when the surrounding areas are dark and may be quiet.
- Escalator safety:
Shoppers, particularly children, should not enter an escalator barefoot or wearing slops as severe injuries can occur.
In addition to regular security measures, retail store owners and managers need to implement additional procedures and processes during busy holiday seasons.
- Staff vetting:
Before hiring casual labour, those doing so should conduct proper background checks, regardless of the type of work the employee will carry out.
- Safe banking practices:
It is all too common for retailers to bank their previous day’s taking the following morning, and by just observing retailers at about 8:30/8:45am every morning it is obvious to notice their lone, often slight female, employees carrying their cash in plastic shopping packets. It is advised that retailers rather make use of cash-in-transit services to do their banking. However, if this is not possible, retailers should ensure that the cash is banked at varying times, and not given to one person alone to do. Rather send them in pairs or groups, preferably one male member, and also disguise the packaging of the cash. Also limit the amount of cash employees carry as it is also tempting for some of them to fake muggings in order to make off with large amounts they are carrying.
Busy restaurants also provide criminals with opportunities, particularly as people are relaxed and often oblivious to potential crime.
- Do not leave handbags unattended: Handbags slung over chairs or left on or under tables are easy targets for criminals, some of whom may even be seated in the restaurant. Women should never leave their bags unattended or ask strangers at nearby tables to watch them. This means that handbags need to be taken to the buffet table and bathroom. The same rules apply for cellphones, which are often left on tables.
- Never lose sight of bank cards: Diners should never let waiters or other restaurant staff take their cards away for payment. Most restaurants do have hand-held machines which can be swiped at the table in full view of the cardholder. In the event that this is not available cardholders should accompany waiters or restaurant staff to the counter to pay, but keep their cards in their possession at all time. It only takes a quick and invisible swipe against a skimming device for a card to be cloned.
Restaurant owners and managers
As measures are put in place to deal with increased number of guests, such as hiring extra casual staff, simple security procedures can often be overlooked.
- Staff vetting: Before hiring casual labour, those doing so should conduct proper background checks, regardless of the type of work the employee will carry out. Criminals often take advantage of casual work offers to commit crimes.
- Safe banking practices: Vary the times of day that you send employees to bank cash. Also, disguise the cash so that it is not noticeable to others. Furthermore is advised to not send too much cash with one person and rather send employees to bank cash in groups.
SAFETY IN PUBLIC PLACES
Beaches and entertainment strips are particularly popular during holiday seasons, and while tourists and residents are free to have fun and enjoy themselves, they still need to take precautions.
- Parking and vehicle safety:
Motorists must ensure that they park in safe, well-lit areas, always looking out for suspicious people around them. Cars must always be locked, windows closed, and all valuables placed out of sight. Motorists need to safeguard against remote jamming by physically checking that their cars are locked, even if they did lock them remotely. Those who are surfing should not leave their car keys under their wheel arches or with car guards.
- Leave valuables at home:
People should limit the value of items they carry such as jewellery, cameras, and laptops. They should only take with them the valuables they need, particularly if they are spending time on the beach. Car keys, watches, and cellphones wrapped up in towels or in bags unattended on beaches are easy targets for observant criminals. Beachgoers should also not ask strangers nearby to watch over their belongings. Either leave valuables behind or ensure someone in the group is sitting with them.
- Move in groups:
Where possible people should always try move in groups to avoid looking vulnerable and being targeted by criminals. They should not walk alone in dark or deserted areas, and avoid going to the beach alone or even in couples or small groups late at night or during the early hours of the morning. Criminals also work in groups and can easily outnumber visitors with lesser numbers.
HOTEL, B&B, AND HOLIDAY HOME SAFETY
Tourists often drop their guard on holiday, forgetting that although they are relaxing and on vacation, they are still in South Africa, a society with a known high crime rate. While tourists should not be on edge, they should be mindful and take basic precautions.
- Lock valuables away:
Guests should not forget that they are not the only people with keys to their rooms. Leaving items of value, including money, lying around only creates temptation for people servicing rooms – many of whom are often only casually employed over the holidays. Poverty is still rife in the country and valuable items that can be easily stolen are lures for people desperate for food or money.
- Do not leave items of value unattended:
This includes leaving cellphones, computers and handbags on hotel counters and tables, including in the establishments’ restaurants.
- Always lock up:
Guests should not be lulled into a false sense of security at gated estates or other holiday homes. Often units in estates and self-catering establishments are unknowingly rented out to criminal syndicates who are then able to move amongst residents and guests inconspicuously. Therefore, doors and windows should remain locked and closed on exit, and items should not be left outside.
Establishment owners and managers:
- Staff vetting:
Before hiring casual labour, those doing so should conduct proper background checks, regardless of the type of work the employee will carry out.
- Do thorough guest checks:
Holiday home owners should as far as possible take steps to ensure that parties renting their properties, especially those in estates and other self-catering holiday establishments, are genuine holiday makers and not looking for criminal opportunities.
HOME AND RESIDENTIAL SAFETY
During the festive season residential crimes such as home robberies and burglaries do increase as criminals look to cash in on the celebrations. Whether home owners are leaving their homes unoccupied while they go on holiday or remain at home, there are precautions that need to be taken.
- Ensure home alarms are in working order:
Before locking up and leaving home to head on holiday, residents should ensure their alarm systems are in working order. It is recommended that the systems are serviced, batteries checked and replaced if necessary including remote panic batteries for those staying at home), and that self-tests are performed. Residents need to alert their security company to the tests being conducted. There are two types of tests that can be performed: The first is to test the system within your property, and the second is to test that your system is in communication your security provider’s control room.
To test your internal system, first refer to your user manual as procedures differ depending on model and system types. However, the following procedure works with most systems:
- Ensure your system is in “READY” mode, but do not arm it.
- Open each protected door and window one at a time, checking that each of the zones are triggered on your keypad.
- After closing each door or window, ensure that your system reverts to “READY” mode.
- Repeat this test for motion sensors too.
To test the signal transmission between your system and your security provider’s control room, follow this procedure:
- Call the Control Room to inform them, and then request your system to be placed on “TEST”. Be ready to give your account details and challenge code to the operator on request.
- Arm your system as usual and then trigger it by either opening a protected door or window or moving in front of a motion detector.
- Allow the alarm to sound for at least one minute, then turn off the alarm by entering your code on your keypad
- Verify with the control room operator that your signal was received
- Request that your system then be taken off “TEST”
- Home entertaining precautions:
The festive season is often a reason for home entertaining, either with residents throwing large-scale parties, or braais with friends and families. Criminals often take advantage of such situations as they are able to hold up large numbers of people at a time, and therefore make off with more items of value. In such cases, both residents and guests need to be alert.
- Although guests will be in and out of properties, they, and the home owners, should ensure that, where possible, all doors and windows remain locked and closed.
- If people are hosting large parties, they should consider employing the services of security guards at their properties. Security companies, such as Excellerate Security, hire out security guards for events. Car guards, or those performing car guarding duties, cannot be considered sufficient protection of people and property.
- While guests often enjoy the festivities with large amounts of alcohol, it is advised that not all in attendance reach the point of over-inebriation. Criminals are known to easily rob homes and people of all their valuables while they sleep or are passed out.
- Security for unoccupied homes:
People need to ensure that no unnecessary attention is drawn to their empty homes while they are away.
- They should ensure that their doors and windows are properly closed and locked.
- It is advised that people going away ask well-known and trusted neighbours to keep an eye on their properties while they are away. If the neighbours know they are away they will take more notice of suspicious activity on their property. Exchange contact numbers in case of an emergency.
- Residents should also ask someone they know to clear their post box out at least daily or every second day. Uncollected and piled-up post tells people – and criminals – that no-one is at home.
- Lighting is also an easy way to tell if people are away from their homes for long periods. Residents should fit their homes with day/night sensor lights so that the properties are never in darkness. Outside and inside lights that are operated via day/night timers give the impression that people are home.
- Residents with alarm systems should ensure the system is armed.
- If going away for a few days it is advisable that people ask friends or family members to check on their properties every second or third day. It is important to leave a set of house keys with them in case they need to get into their homes in cases of emergency.
- People who employ live-out domestic employees should not alert them to the fact that they are going away. Even if they are trustworthy it does not mean that criminal elements will not be able to get wind of this information via their innocent conversations with friends – or threaten them for it.
- Ensure those that are home alone know the relevant safety procedures: It is essential that children at home during the holidays and domestic workers are aware of necessary safety procedures.
- They should always ensure that, as far as possible, doors and windows remain closed and locked. If children are, however, playing outside, ensure they are vigilant and are aware of people in the streets or around their properties. Teach them to never make conversation with strangers in the street, or to open gates or doors for strangers. If they feel at any stage unsafe, they should immediately go inside and lock their doors until the perceived danger has gone. They should also alert you so that, if you feel you need to, you could ask your security company to check on your house or do a patrol around your home.
- Ensure that children, domestic workers, and child-minders know where all the panic buttons are in the house, and know how – and when – to use them. Remember, they need to press and hold the button down for a second or two before the alarm sounds.
- If people have stay-at-home neighbours that they know and trust, they should ask them to check in on your child/children once or twice a day, either physically or telephonically, if possible. Parents should also give their children these neighbours’ contact numbers in case they ever need to call them for help.
- Teach children to never tell strangers that they are home alone. This could either be in the case of them talking to someone they do not know, or talking to someone on the telephone. If someone phones asking for their parents, the children should rather tell them that their mom or dad is just “busy” at the moment – perhaps on another call, or doing something outside – and ask if they can take a message.
- Sufficient security hardware:
Layering your security measures is not only essential during holidays, but all through the year. In addition to a good alarm system residents should try invest in at least one, good quality camera installed in the perfect spot. This not only assists with monitoring your property but also providing good facial images. Police and private investigators, such as those at Excellerate Security, are then able to investigate and charge suspects with as much detailed information as possible.
Many businesses close for the Christmas and New Year period, and criminals often take advantage of empty properties and lesser security. It is therefore advised that businesses take added security measures to secure their properties and assets within. Returning in the New Year to find equipment stolen is not only an inconvenience but also impacts productivity.
- Employ the services of temporary guards: Many security companies specialising in commercial security – such as Excellerate Security – will hire out temporary guards during holiday periods.
- Layer security: Business owners should secure their perimeters with electric fences and gates as well as ensure that doors are properly protected by solid, robust gates. Alarm systems should also be installed so that breaches of these layers trigger the siren and alarm. Remote Video Verification (RVV) is highly recommended as checks can be conducted via cameras remotely.
Excellerate Security offers South African residents and visitors to the country the services of their revolutionary Genie ICE application, which is an extension of people’s home alarm system in the form of a mobile panic button. This a cell phone based, geolocation, emergency notification system that can be downloaded to any cell phone, and is the first and only mobile panic button to be integrated into the control room of a security company. The app can be downloaded by anyone, even if they are not Excellerate Security clients. The Genie ICE service is available to Excellerate Security armed response clients for an additional monthly fee of only R20 per cell phone, or to non-clients at R159.60 a month for up to five phones within the household. People can register at http://m.scircl.es/Excellerate Security, or by dialing the USSD service at *120*25378*3636723#.
Holiday seasons are meant to be enjoyed in the most stress-free and relaxed manner possible. Ironically though it is this festive mood that can often lead to ruined holidays as domestic and international tourists become victims of crime because they drop their guards. Therefore, remaining vigilant and taking precautions is essential for holiday makers to not only avoid the inconvenience of stolen items, but end their holidays with only good experiences and memories.
*Derek Lategan is experienced in both policing and security, boasting 10 and 27 years’ of experience respectively. He is also a long-standing member of both SASA and the Shopping Centre Council. Derek is responsible for the handling the day-to-day operations of the Excellerate Security as well as overseeing new growth business ventures.