Big Brother tactics to beat UAE criminals

Residents in the UAE should not to drop their guard when it comes to protecting their property, especially while travelling during summer. Here experts give some handy tips of the trade.

Adding extra security measures has become big business in the UAE.
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The summer holidays bring an opportunity to review your security measures around the home. Experts tell residents not to drop their guard when it comes to protecting their property, especially while travelling, and give some handy tips of the trade.

Abu Dhabi isn't London, and Dubai isn't New York. And when it comes to crime, most people are happy to have it that way.

But security experts warn against residents letting down their guard and suggest some simple precautions to keep property safe.

"Because of the level of complacency here thieves often get into homes simply because a resident has left the door open," says Paul Mercer, director of the security risk-management company Whispering Bell in Dubai.

"If we were all living back in New York, London or Mumbai, we'd be far more cued in to a normal security environment and we'd lock our doors and cars."

Mr Mercer advises residents to adopt basic security measures, considered the norm anywhere else in the world, such as locking all gates, doors and windows when they are out or asleep.

"Look at it from an opportunist point of view," he says. "If you lock the doors, the chances of a criminal smashing their way into the house is unlikely.

"They will find a place where there is easy access and an easy opportunity for crime - by its very definition they are taking an opportunity. All residents have to do to take away that opportunity is lock down their property."

For those leaving homes unattended over the summer, Mr Mercer recommends timer switches that turn on lights or a television for a few hours each night.

Other preventive measures include asking a friend to remove newspapers and flyers that pile up outside the front door, and moving cars every few days to create an illusion someone is at home.

"You're basically creating signs somebody is there to create sufficient doubt that the house has been vacated in the long term," says Mr Mercer.

"People think of surveillance as something that's very organised, but surveillance is as simple as driving past a house and then going back the following day to see if the same signs are there.

"Opportunist criminals aren't going to go up to a window to see if someone is actually in. They'll do a drive-by of hundreds of different villas and if they note any change or movement in a house, they'll continue driving."

A snapshot of what people think about crime is revealed by an online survey conducted by The National. Of 140 people who contacted the website, fewer than a third said they had been victims of crime in the past two years.

About half of the victims had reported the incident to the police, but arrests and prosecutions followed in less than a third of those cases.

And while seven out of 10 expatriates felt safer here, a similar number also worried crime was getting worse in the UAE.

Incidents of organised crime, where criminals target wealthy residents in luxury villas, are much more rare but require greater security measures. Mr Mercer says these crimes are often planned in advance.

"They'll work a network to know who's in and pay off the maids or the gardeners to be able to get further information on what's available," says the security expert, who advises the wealthy to increase security by installing alarm systems or other preventive measures.

Mansi Khanna, general manager of the UAE security company AVI Infosys, says there has been a 25 per cent increase in demand for surveillance systems in the run-up to the summer.

"This is mostly due to the fact that people are away on vacation during the summer in conjunction with Ramadan," Mr Khanna explains, adding the company receives the highest demand from villa communities in Dubai such as Emirates Hills, Arabian Ranches and Al Qusais.

"Residential colonies of Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Ajman are also sourcing their surveillance requirements from us, but the frequency of their requirements is much less when compared to those from within Dubai.

"Abu Dhabi residents have not been noticed to have an unusual increase in demand during summers."

Mr Khanna says his most popular product is an all-inclusive solution that costs Dh2,000.

But some villa residents are willing to pay up to Dh10,000 for high-resolution outdoor surveillance cameras that operate around the clock.

For those who want to take it to the next level, motion sensors and alarms that connect directly to the compound's security team or even the police are advised.

For people on a smaller budget, Mr Mercer recommends outdoor lights with motion sensors that turn on when an intruder walks around the property.

"The reaction from the criminal is going to be to 'run for it', because there might be someone inside the house who has turned the light on," he says.

But residents such as Dilip Daswani, who have paid a premium to live in gated communities, feel it is also a developer's responsibility to secure a community.

Mr Daswani has recently spent Dh15,000 installing security equipment in his Dubai home after a break-in. "Security is not strong enough," he says. "Guards need to do more than just write down the registration numbers of cars entering the gate. Anyone coming in should also know the name of the resident of the villa they are going to."

Other residents in compounds have called for better lighting, security cameras, screening of cars leaving compounds and mandatory identification stickers on residents' cars to deter unwanted visitors.

But Mr Mercer says increasing access control is hard to do.

"An accredited access-control system will ultimately disrupt the normal flow of day to day traffic," he explains.

"While people will say they want a higher-level security after an incident, give it three weeks of queues that impede their movements in and they'll soon be complaining. It's a double-edged sword."

Finding the right balance has certainly been a challenge for some communities.

At Al Reef in Abu Dhabi, the developer Manazel has installed a variety of measures to battle crime after residents reported a series of break-ins in the first six months of this year.

In March, Manazel increased security presence to more than 35 guards and gave them golf carts to patrol the community.

In May the company announced plans to install motion detectors, more lighting and higher walls had been submitted to the municipality.

In another Abu Dhabi community in Khalifa City A, burglar bars are being installed on ground floor windows and sliding doors after an intruder reached children's bedrooms in two homes last month.

And Khidmah, a property management company that looks after some of Abu Dhabi's leading developments, such as Golf Gardens and Khalidiya Village, has also tightened security.

"Exterior lighting checks are performed weekly and additional lighting was added earlier this year on one community to provide more even coverage in the community," says Shelley Jenkins, property management director of Khidmah.

"We also have recently purchased additional security golf carts that patrol the developments 24/7.

"One of the most effective means of preventing petty crime is to develop a community culture where neighbours know and watch out for one another. Through our newsletters and resident communication, we strive to develop these links between residents and management.

"We also advise and encourage all tenants to lock all their doors when they are out and especially when away for prolonged period of time over the summer, and to let a neighbour know who can keep an eye on the property in their absence."

While preventive measures are good, once a crime has been committed the next stage is picking up the pieces and making an insurance claim.

But again, the general perception that the UAE is a safe place means less than 10 per cent of the community have a home-contents policy.

"In the last year, theft and burglary represented less than 5 per cent of our 850 home claims," says Alexis de Beauregard of Axa Insurance. "However, such claims are severe compared to our general average claim cost of Dh25,000."

While taking out an insurance policy will give you peace of mind, it won't erase the risk of crime.

Mr de Beauregard adds: "Simple behavioural habits may go a long way in managing the risk of theft in the long-term, such as locking doors before sleeping.

"Such a risk-conscious lifestyle will not only reduce the frequency but also will be useful at the time of the risk occurring."