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Indian burglars get more savvy

November 8, 2006

With the information age burglars have better access to information, and more sophisticated tools. And now this trend has come to India as well. Today’s burglar is more literate, better equipped and frighteningly, more violent than ever before. K.L. Prasad, DCP, Crime Detection has this to say, ‘The pattern of crime is changing. Criminals nowadays not only have better tools, many carry fire-arms. They also plan their crimes carefully.’ Cutting through glass and grills and not leaving a trace of their crime is not the stuff of movies anymore. It’s becoming the bitter reality in India today.

The middle-class is most vulnerable
Bungalows and luxury apartments often have high walls, trained security guards, alarm systems and even guard dogs. But apartment buildings occupied by the middle-class are soft targets. To make it worse, middle class societies are poorly guarded and the reasons are mostly financial. The middle class can view security as a luxury.

Too many people staying in one building can be a huge problem. At times one society could have numerous members. Diwan Rahul Nanda, the MD of Tops Detectives and Security Systems says, ‘Building societies are not easy to work for. There could even as many as a hundred members with different opinions on the type of security required and the amount to be spent.’ That is if they even agree about spending on proper security! ‘Unfortunately even today people believe that security is a luxury, but it’s a necessity. People only realise it’s importance when they become victims,’ adds Nanda. He maintains that professional security services need not be exorbitantly expensive, specially if a large of people are going to share the cost. For example, if a building society consisting of 60 members hires three guards on eight hour shifts costing Rs 4000/- (for each guard), the expenditure incurred would only be Rs 200/- per family per month.

Professional guards are required
Middle-class societies often compromise and hire casual labour who are willing to work for a pittance. These ‘watchmen’ are often recommended by other security guards or perhaps domestic servants. It’s a mistake to hire such people as only professional security guards are physically fit and trained to defend themselves and keep out unwanted visitors. They are also trained to sniff out those on the look-out for ‘information’.

As break-ins are planned before-hand, criminals rely on a network of informers ranging from milkmen, vendors, workmen, maidservants or even a watchman. All these people could either deliberately or unwittingly supply information. Once the flat has been identified, entry into most apartment buildings is not difficult. An untrained watchman will usually let people posing as a workmen or a “respectable” looking visitor inside. That it, if he is at the gate. It is common for flat-owners to send security men on errands, ask them to help them with packages, or deploy them only for night-duty. Or the security men might just be relaxing somewhere far away from the entrance.

Guard references need to be checked
It is common for even professional agencies pick up untrained guards and therefore it is important for clients to ensure that they get trained and experienced manpower, specially as they are paying for it! Experience does not mean a few months’ experience, but a few years of it. The guard also has to come with references, and clients should demand to see these. It is not advisable to leave the scrutiny of guards to security agencies, as even top agencies in the country have been known to take short-cuts, and not inform their clients. There was an incident in October 2006 when Shah Rukh Khan was provided a guard by a reputed agency without it bothering to verify the guard’s antecedents. If it can happen to the well-heeled Shah Rukh, it can certainly happen to you!

In western countries, written references and police verification is standard practice, and therefore it is easier to trust the security agencies there. Here word-of-mouth is often trusted.

Robber profile
The police say that burglars are usually male, below the age of forty, largely illiterate and ofcourse – unemployed. Some might be school-drop-outs with a history of petty crime, but freshers are regularly recruited by gangs.
The criminals usually work in groups as this enables them to carry away heavy objects like VCR’s or small televisions in addition to the cash and jewellery.

Modus Operandi
Burglars usually don’t want to come face to face with apartment owners and that is why they select empty apartments – but if they do come in contact with the owner and meet resistance, they will resort to violence and even murder. The hardened, experienced criminals target even occupied apartments, though they try to ensure that the occupants are women and children, or old people. Cowards all. They don’t want to risk getting hurt themselves.

Getting bolder
Records show that a large percentage of break-ins today are daylight robberies. This figure could increase, and in fact the cops believe that robbers are getting bolder.

Citizens’ apathy
The police may shout themselves hoarse about taking precautions but unfortunately, few people think that they can become a victim of crime. A burglary is always something that happens to someone else – either those who live in bungalows or those who flash their wealth around. The attitude of Vinita Ramachandran who lives in a multi-storied apartment complex in Lokhandwala in Mumbai is telling. ‘I don’t ever think of being robbed,’ admits the elderly lady, who spends a lot of time alone. ‘I feel safe because I’m on the fifth floor…and besides, Mumbai is safe for people like us. It’s those who are involved with the underworld who are victims of crime,’ she says.

No city in India is safe today, whether Delhi or Mumbai. Usually it is immigrants who commit crimes and and then run away to their native place. ‘The criminals are almost never from the city itself,’ says Prasad, ‘and this makes it more difficult to trace them. They commit a crime and vanish into the vastland of other states. They have no criminal records here and sometimes not even in their own state.’

The only solution is prevention. For this the police need help. They have published various leaflets and booklets to educate the public about this. One such leaflet has important suggestions for the public. It says:

1. Hire qualified and experienced chowkidars only.
2. Check the antecedents/credentials of chowkidars and domestic servants before hiring them.
3. Insist on references from previous employers.
4. Furnish their full particulars to the police station.
5. Always employ different chowkidars for day and night duties.
6. Don’t entrust chowkidars with errands.
7. Instruct chowkidars to make enquiries with people bringing in or taking out parcels, suitcases etc.
8. Also instruct them to accompany workmen right up to your door.
9. When you go out of town, inform your neighbours, the society secretary and the chowkidar so they can keep a watch on your house.
10. Maintain a special register with the chowkidar.
11. Install a second door with reinforced iron bars, superior night latches and eye lens on the main door.
12. Also install a high wattage light source with a pilfer-proof cover outside the main door.
13. Always be on the look-out for taxis, rickshaws parked in your society for an unreasonably long time.
14. Avoid keeping large amounts of cash/jewellery at home.
15. Avoid discussing money matters in front of outsiders and also be careful when you speak to anyone on the telephone.
16. Secure all entry points to your home when you are out of town. This also includes ventilators and AC vents.

Cost of security:
Professional security guards:- Rs 4000 – Rs 15000/- depending on expertise required.
Dog squads:- Rs 6000/- to Rs 10,000 per dog as they come with a handler. Plus dog food.
Alarm systems: Rs 10,000 onwards.

Some good tips are given here.
(This article was published in The Bombay Times, a supplement of The Times of India.)

Related Reading: Murder by domestic servants in India

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