CHENNAI: Three days after his cataract surgery, a 55-year-old watchman was back at work. He sat in his usual seat outside an ancient apartment complex in Kodambakkam wearing a nifty pair of dark glasses. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t regained his vision fully. Among his other chores like shopping for an old woman’s groceries, buying cigarettes for the bachelors on the fifth floor, and delivering a tenant’s lunch at a nearby office, “watching” was not a real part of the watchman’s job.
But the thought of a “blind watchman” is hardly a paradox in the age of daylight robberies. Earlier, burglars showed the courtesy of striking at night, today they are suave salesmen and repairmen who call on your doorstep in the afternoon. Some even pose as government servants. MN Manjunatha is Inspector General of North Zone and shares a few real-life situations. In Thirunelveli, burglars appeared in a van bearing TNEB insignia and said they were from the electricity board. The lady of the house let them in and they robbed her. “They scammed her saying that her husband had called from the office and had asked them to check the meter. If only she had taken the effort to confirm this with the husband she would have known that they were fraudsters. One phone call would have made a world of a difference,” says the Inspector General.
In Kelambakkam, an elderly woman lived alone. Her housemaid would show up at the house everyday to do her job. But one day, she brought along her paramour and the duo strangled the old lady and decamped with her valuables. Manjunatha says, “The maid had the right of entry and was known to the security staff. Over time, she had studied the old woman’s habits and noted her lack of alertness.” Manjunatha says that most of the crimes committed in apartments are “inside jobs”. He says, “Workers, maids, repairmen who come to your home regularly, may watch your habits. Even if they are not the perpetrators themselves they can be agents of information to the criminal. Women who are alone at home must wait for a male member to arrive before they call over the repairmen. If she lives alone, it is advisable to call the security guard or a neighbour.”
In fact, it pays to keep an eye on your neighbours as well, feels Manjunatha. In Kanchipuram, a family who were leaving on vacation gave their house keys for safekeeping to their tenant, a female MBBS student who lived on the floor above. The girl and her boyfriend (also an MBBS student) gained entry and looted 75 lakhs. “Before you give the keys to your house to someone, make sure to check their antecedents. Two or three months of knowing them is not enough time to lend them your trust.” The Inspector General advises the security sensitisation of apartments. “Residential complexes normally have their own security guards but they are powerless beyond a point. Locking your doors when you go out or come in, helps and you must be doubly sure of the identity of the caller before you open the front door.”
Surveillance devices like video door phones help you ascertain the identity of the caller before you open your front door. P S Ramachandran, business development manager at E-Sync Security Solutions says that video door phones are becoming regular fixtures at apartments. “Video door phones place a camera on the front door and can have one, two, or
three monitoring platforms. After you have verified who the caller is, you can press a button to open the door automatically,” he says.
The company also develops sophisticated alarm systems. Magnetic sensors are placed on your windows and doors and a security breach will trigger a high-pitched alarm and an automatic call to your cell phone. The integrated DVR will record the events automatically. The phone app will let you see what’s going on at home. A basic surveillance system will cost you 10,000 but high-end security products like biometric scanners, mobile view cameras are available for the right price.
Sandeep Mehta, President of CREDAI, says that most projects that are under development are equipped with CCTVs. “No one can enter the premises without the knowledge of the guards,” he says.
Devesh Bhuva, general manager, sales and marketing, Prince Foundations says that all their projects are under CCTV surveillance. “The lift lobbies have cameras at the ground floor level and so do all the corridors. These are monitored at a central space by the security. A three-month back-up of the footage is kept. Additionally, cameras are placed at all entry and exit points, parking lots, and along the boundary wall. In any kind of situation, we can find out what went wrong. For a project of five acres or more, there will be close to 20 guards with two supervisors who maintain regular checks.”
M Vijaya Kumar, assistant professor at KSR College of Engineering, is one of the authors of a case study on “Spatial Statistical Analysis of Burglary Crime in Chennai City Promoters Apartments”. Based on crime data available in the public domain from 2001 till 2008, the authors conducted three simulations. Their primary aim was to establish a study area of high crime incidence or “hotspots”.
Vijaya says, “It was found that an attractive or posh house was found to entice burglars. Regular people will admire the architecture or the colour of paint used, criminals make a note of entry and exit points, doors and windows etc. It is a part of criminal psychology to go after the best house in the neighbourhood. The survey of the environment or reconnoiter is the first stage. In the second stage, they collect information about the individuals who live in these homes. In the third stage, they make direct enquiries and casual conversations with people who may know them like dhobis or helpers,” says Vijaya, “People may talk rather innocently saying so-and-so is a philanthropist or gives away a lot of money or runs a very successful business etc, but all this is capital for the criminal.”
An experienced security practitioner who did not want to be named had much to say regarding the state of security arrangements of our residential complexes. “The average Chowkidar conducts basic checks of people who enter the premises and keeps a register. But that is the extent of his power. Often he is a senior citizen, who cannot physically withstand any assault. To make matters worse, he is paid a pittance, and is given nothing more than a place to sleep and a tube of mosquito repellent. Frequently, he is made to leave his post by the residents themselves who ask him to do odd jobs.”
Giving a summary of the situation, he says, “Chennai is home to over 600 agencies and 80 percent of them operate without licenses. As part of the PSAR Act (Private Security Agencies Regulation Act) agencies are required to provide 160 hours of training to the personnel. But training is expensive and most companies try and compress the training into one week or skip it entirely. Manpower shortages have lead to an influx of people from the northeast and other regions, who are not fluent in even rudimentary Hindi – let alone Tamil. With a basic Class 8 education, they are thrust into a strange place with no training and are unarmed. Background verifications are impossible to perform, they take months and mostly come up with nothing. But some of the watchmen are smart and actually do well on the job.”
Says our expert, “Given that most attacks are inside jobs, keeping your mouth shut goes a long way. This is a mandate for old people, who because they have no one else to talk to, divulge too much to all and sundry. Statements like ‘My son is coming from Australia!’ or ‘We are going to Thirupathi next week!’ can cause serious damage. In fact, if you are going on a long vacation you are advised to let the police know. I have second thoughts about that as well as it sounds like an invitation for trouble.”
He adds, “In security parlance, there is something we call the theft triangle which is made up of motive, rationale and opportunity. Now you can’t control someone’s motive and rationale for robbing you but you can control opportunity. For example, your poor, underpaid Ayah may ask you for a tip to which you say no. But she works in your house and knows how much wealth you possess. Since you deny her when she is in need, in her mind that is justification enough to cheat you. And those who are familiar with their surroundings are the best at obliterating evidence afterwards. The rules are simple, keep your secrets, limit conversation and do not flaunt your wealth.”