Beware of burglars
The number of burglaries in the city is increasing by the day. Most burglaries occur because people do not take steps to protect themselves. Evaluation of current security measures helps identify vulnerable areas, writes R. K. ROSHNI
`Burgled' scream the headlines. And one reads on, as if nothing untoward has happened. Burglary is something that people have learnt to live with.
The word `burglary' signifies unlawful entry into a house for the purpose of theft. The attempt may or may not involve force. Most thefts in houses in the city take place at the dead of night when the residents are in deep sleep. In 2001 alone, 200-odd burglaries took place during night and some 150 at daytime. In 2000, as many as 160 night-time burglaries were reported.
As many as 72 burglaries were reported in the city in June this year and the figure rose to 82 in July. The City Police Commissioner, Rajan Singh, however, avers that there has been no significant increase in the figures as compared with 2001. "There was an increase in July, but August has shown very good results."
Incidentally, most burglaries occur because people do not take steps to protect themselves. Evaluation of current security measures helps identify vulnerable areas.
The most common modus operandi is to enter the houses by cutting or bending window bars or breaking open terrace or kitchen doors. Police sources say a gang strikes at one or more houses in a residential colony at the same time. Burglars normally scout the area for some days before breaking in. They identify tell-tale signs that indicate the absence of the owners, be it a pile of newspapers, unchecked mail or drawn blinds. They also look out for dogs or security guards, besides identifying the escape routes.
Gangs of burglars are most prolific during the rainy months, for the combination of darkness, rain and power-cuts works to their advantage. An average burglar spends only a few minutes burglarising and they are usually thorough professionals who leave behind few clues, including fingerprints, say officials.
Most of the burglaries are carried out by gangs operating from the suburbs or from the neighbouring districts of Tamil Nadu. After the break-in, they wait till daybreak and decamp with the loot. "It is then sold to fences there. And therein lies the difficulty in recovering the loot," say sources.
Spending some time to beef up security of your house will in the long-term help avoid heavy loss, the Police say. Avoid storing valuables such as gold or jewellery in the house. Says the Police Commissioner, "Many burglaries take place because people unwisely stock jewellery or hard cash at home."
Residents should also make sure that the doors and windows are strong and secure. Tools such as spades or crowbars that may aid in the break-in should not be left in the yard. "The ladder in our backyard was used to access the window on the second floor," says Surendran Nair of Pattom.
If you are moving into a new neighbourhood, performing a security check makes sense. Find out if the area is well lit and if a neighbourhood watch programme is being organised. Get in touch with the police and find out how many burglaries have happened in the area and how burglars operate.
Says Punchakkary Ravi, general secretary of the Federation of Residents' Association of Trivandrum, "Many residents' associations in the city have joined hands with the police to check this menace. The associations have begun to organise night patrolling and also report any suspicious person or activity in the neighbourhood. The idea of allotting identity cards to members who patrol the area is also being considered by the police. The cops have also undertaken to operate complaint boxes in which residents can lodge their grievances, besides organising beats at irregular timings."
Says Rajan Singh, "We maintain a list of criminals, verify their antecedents and keep a tab on their movements. Besides, the Catch-2000 programme is on. We meet the residents' associations of the city every second Saturday of the month and take stock of their complaints. At the next meeting, we get back to them with the follow-up action. In fact, no major complaint has been received at this month's meeting."
If any suspicious activity is found, information may be passed on to the police control room (100) or the Crime Stopper Cell (1090). Lighting up the by-lanes of a locality not only acts as a deterrent but also helps in easier detection.
"However, only when the Electricity Board and the Corporation stop playing the game of passing the buck can we hope for deliverance from this problem," says Punchakkary Ravi.
But till that happens, one should make sure that the house and porch are well lit. Low-voltage illumination is ideal.
It is also a good idea to take an inventory of one's possessions, so that if a theft does occur, one doesn't rattle off wrong figures to the investigators. It will also come handy while filing claims later.
Middle-class or upper-class families, with little or no communication between neighbours, are the most common targets. Friendly neighbours, on the other hand, will report any suspicious activity in your absence. It is also in their interest, for your unprotected house makes their houses vulnerable to the burglars as well.
"Negligence again is the primary cause of many thefts," says Rajan Singh. "In one case, the almirah key had been left by the window, making the task easier for the burglar."
If patrolling in one area is intensified by the police, these gangs simply shift operations to another locality. Police sources cite the case of a thief who stole a refrigerator from a house and hailed an auto for towing it away. When caught, he said he'd shifted operation to the Kumarapuram area because autos were easily available there.
Festivals such as Onam (when owners stay away from the house for long) are exploited to the hilt by those who stake out residential areas. Most thefts in houses during Onam are carried out by itinerant gangs of criminals from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Sources say these groups move around with women and children, making detection difficult. "Till date, we have no inkling of how these groups transfer loot. We only know they do it pretty quickly." Says Rajan Singh, "This Onam, the number of burglary cases was a little higher. But the immediate period before and after Onam has seen no major change."
The police also carries out inspection of houses that remain unoccupied for a period of time. "Not a single burglary has taken place in houses where the occupants complied with our instructions and informed us of their absence," avers the Police Commissioner.
The detection and recovery rate in these cases of theft is, however, very low. District Crime Records Bureau figures say that of the 72 cases registered in June this year, only 30 were detected. Only in 44 of the 82 cases reported in July was the property recovered. This low number also dissuades people from filing complaints. "What's the point of going to the police? All my money is gone forever. I'm ruined," says Gopalakrishnan Nair, whose house was burgled. The number of cases being registered is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Houses nowadays are being designed keeping in mind the security angle. Says Reuben Koshy, an architect, "We try and minimise the number of entrances to the house to three - the main entrance, one on the rear for the kitchen and one for the terrace. Grills are provided for all windows. The bars are placed close to each other, so that even child burglars cannot get in. French windows come with hinged or sliding grills."
But whatever you do, burglars still manage to sneak in, say the police. This is where burglar detection systems come in. More and more people are opting for these systems are they are just about foolproof. Says T. V. Menon of Excel Marketing Corporation, "There are burglar alarms that go off certain seconds after someone enters the house, unless deactivated. Passive Infra-red (PIR) are activated at night when the sensors detect any kind of presence and sound an alarm. These detect only human presence, while the four-legged creatures are spared." Then there are magnetic contacts that can be set on doors and windows. If a break-in is attempted, they give an alarm. An auto-dialer is also available. This contraption can be fed five telephone numbers and immediately alerts these numbers if someone tries to enter the house.
Another product is the video-doorphone for apartments and bungalows. It comprises a phone and a video screen. Anyone at the door is visible on the screen and the person need be let in after finding out his identity on the phone. It records images even at night.
Losses arise not only from missing valuables but also from vandalism. Says Anita, "The burglars took away what they had come for. But they also broke open the rear door of the house, prised open cupboards, irreparably damaging them. All of it would have to be replaced."
Constant vigil pays. Leaving the house unguarded for five minutes or five weeks is equally risky. The key to the problem lies in prevention.
Keep your doors and windows locked even during daytime.
Check whether the doors and windows have been locked before you go out.
Inform your neighbours when you go out of town.
Fix grills on windows and glass panelled doors and keep side doors pad locked. Bolt the main door. Use slam-shut locks instead of pad locks.
Install an alarm system, safety chain and magic eye. Look through the magic eye and secure the door chain before opening the door.
Insure all your valuable properties such as TV and VCD.
Stow away ladders and tools.
Do not record a message on the answering machine, telling people you are away or on a holiday.
Do not keep huge amounts of cash or ornaments at home. Put them in a bank locker. Do not leave the keys in the keyhole.
Do not wear heavy ornaments while travelling alone.
Do not open your bag containing valuables such as cash and ornaments in public places.
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