A recent robbery in a gated home in Bukit Bandaraya, Kuala Lumpur, reminded me of the time when gated communities became fashionable in our country.
The concern then was whether gated and guarded homes were really safe.
I was then a member of a team of researchers undertaking a study on gated communities led by Dr Azimuddin Bahari of the Lands and Mines Department. He had since been conferred a Datukship and has moved on to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.
In this recent criminal incident reported by the media, a family of eight became victims of a home invasion in the early hours of Wednesday morning on Aug 23.
The police investigating the robbery were baffled as to how the robbers could enter the gated residential area without being detected.
The seven robbers (armed with parang) were believed to be Indonesians. Police believed they had entered the house through a bathroom window on the ground floor.
Gated communities are usually provided with several protective measures — such as a high perimeter fence or wall, entry and exit points under constant security guard, 24-hour patrol services and a central monitoring system covered by closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.
Electronic surveillance of the exterior of residential units (as well as the features of a “smart home”) may or may not be available, depending on the type, selling price and standard of these gated homes.
Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee, an expert on urban governance, is of the opinion that gated communities are manifestations of the failure of the local authorities “to make our cities safe, conducive for work and bringing up families”.
He said that we could not prevent robberies by merely building gated and guarded communities. The residents cannot stay in their secured houses all the time. The young have to go to school, whilst working adults have to go to work or to the market place. A large part of their lives has to be spent outside the walls and gates.
In 1995, a 53-year-old businessman (Datuk Soo Lai Sing) purchased a bungalow in a guarded and gated community in Sungai Buloh, relying on the developer’s promise of excellent security facilities for its residents.
He moved into his new home in October 1999. On the morning of March 10, 2000, his house was burgled. He lost half a million ringgit when armed robbers escaped with cash, a shotgun, four Rolex watches, jewellery and other personal items.
In July 2000, he filed a suit against the developer. In May 2004, the Kuala Lumpur High Court awarded him damages amounting to RM487,000. According to evidence adduced in court, the robbers had gained access to the housing estate by cutting through the electronic perimeter fencing, which was supposedly equipped with an alarm system and CCTV cameras.
In February 2007, a gated community in Senai, Johor, became the target of a home invasion. The crime occurred at 3am when four robbers wearing masks broke into a German engineer’s home.
They woke up the man and his wife at knife-point and tied them up with wires. The robbers then ransacked the house.
They fled after getting their hands on some cash, jewellery, a digital camera and laptop totalling RM28,000. The victims freed themselves after the robbers left and then alerted the police.
Gated communities have always been regarded as “safe havens”. New research in the United States, however, challenges this opinion. On the contrary, research findings suggest that although incidents of “opportunistic burglaries” may be low or minimal, the risk of other crimes may increase.
Researchers Lynn Addington (from the American University, Washington), and Callie Marie Rennison (from the University of Colorado, Denver) concluded that whilst gated communities do in fact “lower the odds of experiencing a residential burglary”, they also imposed limitations of access for emergency services such as firefighters, ambulances, and police.
Acknowledging that some criminal activities “may be pushed or displaced” to other areas (non-gated communities), the two researchers expressed concern for risk of other crimes, such as “intimate partner violence or violent assault” in such communities because the victim is “locked in” with the offender.
Home security provider Chris Knott (owner of Naples Security Solutions, Florida) said a gated community “is just one layer of protection”.
A gate and perimeter fencing wall only stop petty criminals.
If professional criminals intend to mount a home invasion, these measures alone will not deter them. Home owners must take extra measures to protect themselves.
A report published in The Economist (“Safe Cities Index 2015”) stated that whilst gated communities did promise a high level of security, they could not guarantee their residents were fully protected from crime.
A perimeter fencing and a round the clock surveillance can give the residents a sense of security, but public spaces in these enclosed neighbourhoods are often deserted and vulnerable to lawlessness.
Another research on the issue of crime in gated communities suggests that the residents may perceive perimeter security as sufficient for crime prevention, thereby neglecting to implement security measures on their own property or observe basic safety principles.
They are lulled into a false sense of security and become less vigilant and alert to the threats of intruders.
If you live in a gated community, do not take your safety for granted.
SALLEH BUANG is formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for practice, the corporate sector and, then, the academia