The most important way of improving the security and safety of your house is to perform a home security survey. With such a huge number of redevelopment projects happening in Mumbai, you may be considering buying a premium apartment launched by a builder in what used to be an erstwhile run down area. Once you have zeroed down on your chosen houses, I suggest that you walk around the area around each of these projects and note down details.
If it is a resale house you are thinking of buying, you will have to discuss and make arrangements with the current owner. You won’t be able to go into as much depth, so you will have to rely to a large extent on what the current owner tells you and will have to move quickly.
House Survey – External
Your first task is to undertake an external security survey of the area around the house. Read each section thoroughly, then when you think you are ready, take a notepad and complete an external security survey. If necessary remind yourself of the basic details needed to record the vulnerabilities, threats and risks you identify. No matter where you live, the procedure is the same, but circumstances will change the content and scope of the external survey. For example, if you live in a 15th floor flat you probably won’t need to look at fences and garden tools. I say probably not – but when you have seen the relevance of boundaries and garden tools to your personal security, you may wish to keep that in mind and include a check for similar threats. For example, there may be a dhobi and presswala’s cupboard on the main entrance outside your apartment building, or a cleaners’ or maintenance store on each floor.
The objective of an external survey is to stand back and take a close look at the house and the immediate surroundings. You should make a note of any vulnerabilities, threats and risks that you identify. As you list them you should take a few minutes to consider and list any justifiable and workable countermeasures. The example threats and countermeasures described below should help you to think along the right lines, but never forget that you have a unique lifestyle. You know your lifestyle and you are the best person to recognise dangers relevant to you and to identify appropriate, justifiable and achievable countermeasures.
Walk around the surrounding area. Walk along the main access routes that lead to your house and make a note of the impression you get. Is it for example ‘general light industrial units with some residential’. Perhaps your area is ‘run down and shabby residential’, or maybe ‘affluent commuter belt’. When you tour the area with an open mind, the impression you get is the impression that the rest of the world gets when they approach your house. With a little consideration it also gives some useful pointers in relation to the security of your house. For example, though the interpretations are rather stereotyped, different appearances could mean different things:
Industrial means lots of people from 9 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday, deserted after that and also deserted on weekends and bank holidays. Therefore with no witnesses around a burglar would be free to pursue his trade at those times. In Mumbai that would mean living in and around Nariman Point, the Bandra Kurla Complex Area, certain areas of Andheri East and Andheri West etc.
Shabby Residential depending on circumstances may mean several things. It could mean a community in decline, where they have little community pride so litter and vandalism are commonplace. It could just mean that the local authority has not yet implemented their refurbishment plan for the area. Shabby residential could indicate high unemployment, which could mean alcohol and drug problems, which could mean high crime rate because the residents need to get their money from somewhere to feed their drug habits. It is only an indication though – it could just as easily reflect the recent closure of a major employer or bad budgetary management and incompetence by the local authority.
Remember, at the moment we are gathering general evidence, so keep an open mind. You should also remember that your knowledge of the area in which you live will give you an insight. You could always talk to people as you survey the area and see what additional information and ‘feeling’ they give you. Be careful what you say, of course, don’t offend or upset people by being too blunt or asking too many questions. Aim to be conversational and wait until later to write down anything that they tell you.
Affluent Commuter Belt means large well-kept houses, equals wealthy residents with a lot of valuable possessions. Commuter belt might mean successful husbands at work leaving houses from 10 am until 8 pm each weekday, wives potentially at home. Worth a thief watching to see when the residents come and go. It could be worth breaking in just to see what is available. Large homes, possibly containing valuable jewelry, gadgets such as smartphones, Gaming devices etc. Large and mature gardens, designed to give the tenants privacy, at the same time shield the approach and work of a burglar. Large bushes and hedges could hide a burglar from passing traffic as he breaks a window and even mask the noise of the breaking glass. Wealthy slo means maybe two holidays per year, which is at least four weeks each year when there will be nobody at home at all (worth coming back with a van for that huge LED TV and that music keyboard – if anyone asks ‘we’re taking it for service!’). Could also mean expensive cars left outside every night, some with valuable contents inside – No need for me to tell you whats inside a BMW or a Jaguar! Down side: the house is probably alarmed by us 🙂 (though false alarms are so frequent that often alarms are ignored and anyway drunks and drugged criminals might just ignore the alarm bells and carry on thieving).
New starter homes means young residents starting out on the property ladder. Probably both out at work though Mum might be at home with a new baby. Young and trendy so they may have latest electronic goods and gadgets, could be worth breaking in. Down side: starter homes packed closely together, small gardens, no mature plants and hedges, so criminal activity would be easily overlooked, heard or spotted.
Look for Signal Crime
As you walk around look out for vandalism, fly tipping, graffiti, broken glass and other petty crime. This is called ‘signal crime‘ because it is a signal in several ways: There are criminals active in the area. There could be a lack of pride in the community and therefore an unwillingness to speak out against and prevent crime. Criminals will read it as an invitation to indulge in their own crime. Generally, where there is visible crime, there will also inevitably be more serious crime that is not apparent to a casual observer. Some see signal crime as the first step on the slippery slope to total lawlessness and decay.
Look to see who is around
As you walk around you should also be looking to see who is moving around in the area. Unfortunately criminals don’t wear badges or uniforms so you are not likely to be able to spot ‘criminals’, but you can get a feel for the type and numbers of people you come across. Just as people mature, communities tend to mature as well. A new estate is built and young families move in. They have children, so Dad leaves for work then each school-day morning the mums and kids leave the area to walk or drive to school. Later on the mums come home alone and the cycle repeats itself in reverse soon after three in the afternoon. As the community matures, the children grow up and leave home, so generally parents live alone, the school run stops but the commute to and from work remains. For a really mature community you could expect slight early morning activity because most of them are retired. There might be a flurry of activity each Tuesday when they all go to the banks to collect their pensions or withdraw some money but otherwise the pattern of movement has become a pattern of no regular movement!
By observing who is around you could identify times of greater risk to you and your property. For example generally with a young community your house will be fairly safe between 8.30 am and 10 am in the morning. During those times there are too many people moving around and as criminals don’t want to be witnessed and reported they will not be active in that area. On the other hand, if you live near the local cricket stadium or near a popular bar or nightclub you might find that drunken men spill out of the stadium or clubs in high spirits. Having drunk too much, they may vandalise cars and gardens and assault people as they move towards the railway stations to go home or wait around endlessly to hail a cab.
Sometimes residents find that they live on a route which is habitually used by drunks. Consider a poorly managed bar that is located at the end of a dead end street. Clearly all of the bar’s customers would have to travel down that street to arrive; more significantly, at closing time they would be ejected from the bar late at night and have to travel back up that street when they leave the pub. In such circumstances it is common for residents to be plagued by petty crime and disturbance almost every evening.
Drunken louts – countermeasures 1
Your sensible countermeasure would be to park your car elsewhere on a Saturday, lock the gate, don’t go out when the match is finishing. If the antisocial behaviour and crimes peak after each football match you should report it and demand that something should be done. You will need evidence to support your claim so you would also be advised to log crimes in the street, and complain in writing to the stadium, the local police and the local authority while copying the complaint to the local MLA. Supporting that complaint with a petition from residents would carry more weight.
Drunken louts – countermeasures 2
I would suggest residents make a log of all incidents and log any calls made to the police and their response. With a few months of recorded evidence I would then make a formal complaint to the police, the landlord, the local licensing authority and copy it all to my MLA. Properly identifying patterns of movement and the type of people moving around at different times will help you to accurately assess threats and risks in a given area.
Amit Sen, a commercial pilot by training, has over 15 years experience in the space of corporate investigations, handling Copyright & Trademark infringement cases, Pre – employment verification Industrial Espionage investigations, Asset & Net – Worth assessment assignments and vendor / supplier verification cases, among others. Co-founder of Alliance One – which is the best private investigation company India. Apart from specializing in marital investigations, Amit has also successfully completed assignments in a wide range of sectors, including the machine tools industry, pharmaceutical industry, hospitality sector, specialized equipment (Oil & natural gas sector, aviation industry etc.), telecom industry & the IT & ITes sectors. These cases have all involved both offline and online investigations.