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Tall walls bad for security

04 Jun 2018

One mid-morning in March 2016, two house breakers lifted Tarryn Venter's* automated gate off its rails, removed a burglar bar, climbed through a window and left a few minutes later with a laptop and cellphone.

Even though her street is fairly busy and municipal employees were at work in the public park across the road, no one saw a thing.

This is because her driveway is walled on both sides, and the property's perimeter walls are high and mostly solid.

Venter, who was at home at the time of the break in, did not see the men lurking outside her property as her dogs barked furiously.

Cases like this are why security experts, for years, have been warning homeowners against isolating themselves with high perimeter walls which not only discourage interaction with neighbours, but also prevent law enforcement members, neighbours and passersby from spotting suspicious activity.

However, it seems the mindsets of many homeowners and buyers have not changed, and probably never will.

"Installing the latest technology and barricading perimeters to extensive proportions does not always ensure you and your family are safe," says Derek Lategan, managing director of Excellerate Security Services.

Rather, gaining perspective and understanding the need for community engagement is the key to making society a safer place, he says.

"Communities need to come together to protect one another, not create silos of insecurity which allow criminals to victimise individual households."

Lategan says this does not mean homeowners should not install the best security measures they can afford. They should just consider which aspects to reinforce.

"Trends show houses enclosed by concrete walls are more susceptible to being targeted by criminals as it is easier to enter and exit the property, as well as burgle or rob the owners, while remaining undetected from the outside."

To improve security, he says a balance needs to be reached between large concrete walls that cut households off from the outside world and easily breached fencing that does not provide the necessary protection to deter criminals.

"Fencing should not impede outside vision into the property, but should be strong enough to deter criminals."

This way, neighbourhood watch and police patrol vehicles can detect criminal activity from outside, and homeowners are able to detect criminal activity that may occur on the perimeter of their properties.

In Claremont and Rondebosch, security rates are a top priority for homeowners. Cecile Leck, area specialist in these areas for Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty, says most buyers regard perimeter walling and top-notch security as essential, particularly for stand-alone properties.

"Homeowners unequivocally prioritise security which, for most, includes high walls and electric fences. However, most are aware that not being visible also has its disadvantages so we are seeing more CCTV cameras erected at key points on suburban roads."

In Joburg, buyers in areas where crime has increased are also looking for high walls and while this buys them a level of perceived security and may deter intruders, Jonathan Davies, Tyson Properties' regional director for Gauteng, agrees they also conceal activity.

For this reason, he says there has been a shift in some areas from high walls to palisade fencing which acts as a deterrent, but also gives those inside the property sight of potential intruders outside.

Davies says some buyers want high walls and solitude because it suits their lock-up-and-go lifestyles.

In some areas of KwaZulu-Natal it has been reported that homes with high boundary walls are more likely to be targeted by criminals as opposed to homes without them.

This is according to Tyson Properties' KwaZulu-Natal director Lee Ellis, who also recommends homeowners wanting high walls opt for designs that allow some visibility, both in and out.

"For example, wrought iron design work will allow neighbours and security patrols to see into your property.

"If a criminal gains access to your property that has a high security wall they are usually no longer visible to either neighbours or passing traffic, therefore giving criminals time to burgle your home at their leisure.

"Landscaping around your security wall is also of extreme importance as tall shrubbery and trees may further assist criminals and give them additional areas within which to conceal themselves."

In Durban North and Umhlanga, Mandy Testa, area specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty in these areas, says security is paramount and the definite trend of high walls and fences "shows no signs of changing".

Although Venter was fortunate to avoid confrontation with the house breakers, she says the incident encouraged her to rethink her family's approach to its daily security.

"Unfortunately we cannot replace our semi-solid perimeter wall as we are renting the property, but we have forged relationships with our neighbours across the road."

The other neighbours, she says, remain strangers and are rarely seen as they also live behind high, solid walls and have automated gates that allow them to enter and exit their properties without seeing their neighbours.

"We exchanged contact numbers with those across the road and make a point of greeting each other, or even exchanging a quick word, when we cross paths. When they have seen unfamiliar people at our gate they have SMSed us to report it, and, likewise, we have alerted them to their gate being left open on occasion and suspicious people looking into their property.

"Unlike us, they have very low walling around their home, probably only a metre high, and while I do think it should be higher, it does make it easy for me to spot anything suspicious happening in their yard when looking out of my window or driving past."

* Name changed

Community initiatives can help make traditional suburbs safer

In addition to installing physical security, Derek Lategan, managing director of Excellerate Security Services, says homeowners should turn their attention to keeping their neighbourhoods safe.

"Community watch initiatives are an effective way of empowering and connecting community members so they can act as a connected unit and come to one another's aid by reporting incidents.

"When used correctly, community social media pages and WhatsApp groups provide a platform for knowledge and information sharing between community members."
Such interaction through social media platforms is also a way for residents to compensate for their stringent security measures, says Cecile Leck, area specialist in Rondebosch and Claremont for Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty.

Leck says residents in many neighbourhoods are establishing Community Security Patrols.

"In the southern suburbs areas such as Lynfrae in Claremont and Rondebosch, residents have initiated substantial community spirit."

Gerhard Kotze, managing director of the RealNet estate agency group, says residents in traditional suburbs are "getting involved" in ratepayers' associations, community policing forums and joint efforts to clean environments and support local charities.

"Homeowners and buyers want to be part of stronger communities in which neighbours look out for one another and where there are more opportunities for the social interactions cut off by high walls and electric fences."

One reason many people are prepared to pay premiums to live in gated estates is that they can move security to the perimeter and live free of high walls and fences. They also get to know their neighbours.

"Clearly there is a hankering not only for a crime-free neighbourhood but more social interaction among residents."

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