Residential estates: Just how secure are they?

August 2019 Security Services & Risk Management, Residential Estate (Industry)

Inhabitants of residential estates often cite security as their prime reason for living in a development of this nature. The reality, however, is that while estates may seem a refuge from the criminal threat lurking in the suburbs, crime may be rife here, too.

Derek Lategan, MD of Excellerate Services, notes that crimes such as motor vehicle theft, breaking and entering and armed robbery are the most commonly reported amongst residents at estates. But how do criminals gain access to properties which are sought out precisely because they are purported to be safe?

“There are, in fact, several avenues for determined criminals,” Lategan answers. “For instance, some estates have flawed vetting procedures in place, making it easy for members of crime syndicates posing as rental guests to enter the estate. Similarly, systems for managing visitors and contractors may also be flawed.” Often, physical barriers to the estate, like perimeter fence lines, have weaknesses or are inadequate, so that criminals who infiltrate through these barriers are hard to detect. Finally, security staff are, occasionally, negligent.

“It’s essential that security staff are properly trained to detect criminal entry and follow the correct standard operating procedures while on duty.”

He adds that, while many residential estates list security as one of their chief attractions, the reality is that the level of security depends on a mix of factors, starting with physical security measures like access control, perimeter fencing, CCTV and contractor management. Even if outstanding systems are in place, they may be undermined if the quality of the personnel manning and utilising these systems is questionable.

And, even when a first-class security force is in place, they may not be able to withstand internal factors, like organised crime syndicates and short-term letting procedures that create opportunities for criminals to operate within the estate. “Most often, it’s estates that are still in the development phase that are most at risk because there are more contractors on site, either conducting criminal activity themselves or providing information to syndicates which exploit the opportunities they’ve helped to identify.”

It’s therefore imperative that residential estates address all potential weak links that might provide an ‘in’ for criminals. One of the most effective ways of doing this, Lategan explains, is by instituting regular operational and electronic audits to ensure that the correct procedures are followed, and that all electronic security equipment is in sound working order. It’s also a good idea to conduct a risk audit, which will help identify risk factors that can then be mitigated by implementing the appropriate security measures.

Homeowners also have a role to play: “Community WhatsApp groups allow estate residents to remain connected. They’re a powerful tool against criminal activity, bringing it to the attention of the authorities expediently.”

Body corporates, meanwhile, should ensure that the security company contracted to the estate is held accountable, and provides the very best security equipment and personnel so that the security function operates optimally.

“It’s important to remember that no residential estate is perfect from a security perspective. Residents still bear a responsibility; it’s vital that they guard against complacency. Living in an estate with a perimeter fence doesn’t negate the need to lock your door and set your alarm at night. The old saying, ‘see something, say something’ must be promoted, so that any security risks can be swiftly identified. Residents must work with security teams to keep criminal activity out of the estate, and developers need to remember that even the best security technology cannot ensure safety if the estate is poorly managed,” Lategan concludes.

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