Unlocked and loaded: why criminals love load-shedding
Security firms and community groups say blackouts leave homes vulnerable when alarms and cameras stop working
Police and local crime watches warn that criminals tend to capitalise on weakened security systems during load-shedding – and security and armed response companies say they have seen a sharp rise in alarm signals over the past two weeks.
Blue Security operations director Brian Jackson said: “We have experienced a steep increase in the number of alarm signals to our control centre during load-shedding over the past two weeks.
“Our control centre staff are working closely with our armed response officers on the ground to respond swiftly to incidents as usual.
“We have arrested several suspects over the past few days, working closely with the police and neighbourhood watch groups,” said Jackson.
Blue Security said that while the South African Intruder Detection Services Association had strict regulations concerning power outages, ensuring security firms are prepared to keep people safe during load-shedding, “it’s important as a homeowner to also take some precautions”.
Police have called on the public to be “extra vigilant” during load-shedding.
“Businesses can be easy targets for burglaries and thefts when alarm systems and cameras may not be functioning optimally,” they warned.
“Criminals thrive during periods of darkness. Promptly lock all open doors and burglar gates. Ensure at all times that large shrubs and hedges on your property are removed or trimmed very low for better visibility.”
One community policing forum in Sydenham, Durban has seen an increase in hijackings and housebreaking when load-shedding was intensified last week.
“Certain areas have seen an increase in hijacking and housebreaking. During load-shedding some folk leave their gates open. Others disengage the motor so the gate can be pushed open, leaving them vulnerable,” said CPF member Satish Dhupelia.
On Saturday, several hundred residents from Ramsgate on the KZN south coast to Pietermaritzburg heeded a call to take part in the Operation Lockdown community initiative, symbolising residents taking back control of their streets, particularly during load-shedding.
eThekwini Secure and eThekwini Cluster CPF chairperson Imtiaz Syed said the project was unprecedented.
“This was historic. When we look at ourselves in our own little areas, we seem few. However, in the collective we are strong in numbers.
“This is the kind of relationships that we need to build across communities as we speak one language in the fight against crime. Everyone needs to get involved, including our women and children. Everybody needs to be empowered,” said Syed.
Cape Town resident Sureshinee Govender said load-shedding has left her feeling vulnerable, especially to crime.
“Already we are paying security companies for monitoring house alarms. In our area we have a patrol company patrolling our area, which we pay for too.”
Aside from more crime, load-shedding has also brought traffic problems.
Arrive Alive has devised a new online campaign to caution road users against irresponsible behaviour on the roads during load-shedding, when the power to traffic lights is cut.
“There is not much that the average person can do about power failures affecting traffic lights and traffic flow. The correct driving attitude can, however, go a long way in preventing collisions or reducing the severity thereof,” said Arrive Alive spokesperson, advocate Johan Jonck.
Layton Beard of the Automobile Association of SA said: “The biggest impact that load-shedding has on traffic are the traffic lights. When there is load-shedding at night it means that street lights might not be working and that will reduce visibility.
“People are tense and upset during this time. People need to have an appreciation that everybody is in the same situation as them. What is required is a lot of maturity behind the wheel with a huge sprinkling of patience.”
Beard said it was difficult to quantify the number of accidents during load-shedding.