Can high walls keep burglars away?
Burglars and house robbers sitting in jail could hold the key to prevention of home invasions.
This is according to criminologist Professor Monique Marks, who argues that high boundary walls can be more dangerous and inviting for more violent criminals.
“The people in prison who have been responsible for serious and violent crime in homes need to be asked what kind of houses they target and why.”
In the absence of this information, Marks, a researcher and head of the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology, said the statistics were clear: homes with high boundary walls were more likely to be targeted by criminals.
“We conducted research in Westville and Umbilo. Went on ride-alongs during the day and at night and had focus groups and interviews with people within the security industry. Their expertise and incident reports showed that homes where invasions were reported over and over again were the ones with high walls around them,” she said.
Marks said this theory had always existed and was part of a branch of criminology called crime prevention through environmental design. This talks about a boundary structure undermining natural surveillance, making the environment more dangerous.
“A wall creates a sense of isolation from neighbours and the public in the area. It creates an architecture of fear and locks us into our own perimeter boundaries, often designed in fear and anxiety,” she said.
Marks said high walls around the home were also a “policing nightmare”.
“No one can see what is happening in your home so no one can help. When you live in fairly imprisoned space, the sense of fear in itself can delay response which may not be the case if you can see something is happening through a perimeter.”
On the point that a home owner could install security cameras so they could be aware of what is happening outside their home and alert security, Marks said these were visible, making the criminals aware and able to deal with them easily by obstructing them. Also, she believes one would have to constantly monitor these to detect an intrusion, which is not likely.
“All of these devices create a false sense of security.”
She called on people to rather develop relationships with people in their neighbourhoods. “I am not saying not having a wall makes you safer - there are a whole range of issues which need to be taken into consideration - but the basic principle is that if you have a boundary, at least have a structure which allows for visibility in and out.”
She also believed that criminals might perceive high walls as a sign there was something valuable inside, enticing them to go after it.
“Armed robberies happening in affluent suburbs like Durban North and Westville are increasing, not decreasing. Walls are not a hindrance. If anything they offer the criminal a mask.”
In areas such as Umbilo, where there were generally no boundaries, crime was opportunistic and petty, such as washing being stolen from washing lines.
She encouraged living spaces where one could greet, see and be seen by neighbours.
“We keep adding devices to make our homes safer, it’s getting to the point of being ridiculous. If criminals want to get in they will ultimately get in.
“What we have done so far to prevent crime is not working, the issue is to look at the psychologies of the brutality of our history. There are so many factors we are not dealing with as South Africans. That is another issue. The statistics cannot be ignored.”
‘You should be able to see the road’
When Professor Monique Marks moved into her home six years ago, then a single mother to young children, she decided that she would not be “hidden from view or imprison myself behind high walls”.
Marks said there was a great sense of community in her “scummy, middle and working class” neighbourhood of Umbilo. She now lives with her husband and three children in a home with a palisade fence through which she can see the road and be seen.
Although she had burglar bars on some of her windows and an alarm system, she believes knowing each other as neighbours is what keeps them safe more than anything else.
“We have had thefts, washing being stolen off the washing line, the Kreepy Krauly stolen out the swimming pool and a bicycle taken but those kind of things will happen in uneven society. It’s the organised violent crime we are trying to prevent,” she said.
Marks believes she may have prevented such a crime when one day she spotted people in a car parked outside her house.
“They could see me too and that I could see them, it was a kind of stare-off.”
The visibility gave her early notice and time to think about her move - to stand her ground - and call security.
“By the time security arrived they had driven off because they could see I was alert to them,” she said.
- Daily News