The CCTV footage shows the BMW outside Fran Swarts house in Dunkeld West, Joburg, where an armed robbery took place.

Johannesburg - Community crime-fighting organisation eBlockwatch posted a question on Facebook: If a client presses their panic button because they are being attacked in their house by criminals, what are security reaction teams expected to do?

Founder Andre Snyman wanted to know which of three responses clients would choose:

1. Do not enter until criminals have left to avoid a hostage situation?

2. Wait for back up from police?

3. Let the criminals leave to avoid a shootout, then go to the client’s assistance?

He also asked if people believed local or international companies were more effective.

The post received an enormous response with some praising their security companies for a job well done, others slamming companies they have dealt with and many giving security advice to the public.

Matthew McCabe wrote that “90 percent of security starts with yourself”.

“The reaction officer has got no rights at all, and I agree, most of the time companies bring or give people a false sense of security due to the fact that everything in SA nowadays is about making money and not treating the client as a human.”

Many of the users on the page rated the best companies as those that went on to properties when a panic button had been pressed, instead of waiting for back up.

Joggie Prinsloo asked what was the use of a security company that stood outside. “I want them to help me fight.”

Andre Oelofse said

: “You get some local companies that don’t even want to help a person if it’s not their client, and then you get reaction officers that will go the extra mile to help, no matter if you’'re a client or not.”

In his experience, said Hannes Enslin, big international companies only want money and acted as “crime discovery teams”.

“We have had several instances where we as a community have ‘secured’ a scene for SAPS before the contracted provider arrives,” Enslin said.

Going in, guns blazing, is not always the best response, some commented.

Ian Loubser saw the first priority of any security company as client safety, and an approach that might end in a shootout would need to be avoided.

The response would therefore either be to let the suspects get away from the client “and then eliminate them, or seal off the area and contain, wait for reinforcements”.

McCabe, a former reaction manager, said the best advice was to have enough response officers and then get the SAPS robbery reaction units out, not sector vehicles.

Security was not trained in dealing with hostages “and the problem is the robber is either going to shoot or take hostages”.

Safety of client their main aim

The Star sent questions to six security companies asking them what their guards would do if a panic button was pressed. The companies were Chubb Security, Top Security, Fidelity, ADT, SSG and Cap Security.

Top Security, Specialised Services Group (SSG) and ADT responded:

* Kenneth Carr, from Top Security, said their first priority was to ensure the safety and lives of their clients.

“We therefore instruct our officers to call for backup if assistance is required. That can be from the police, or a colleague or even a competitor in areas where there are joint ventures.”

* Clive Humphrey, managing director of ADT Central Region, said that on a purely practical level, the high rate of false alarms and panic activations made it unfeasible to dispatch task teams and hostage negotiators on every activation.

“Each incident is different. Our course of action is for the monitoring centre operator to assess the situation and then, based on standard operating procedures, manage the situation accordingly,” said Humphrey.

This procedure is:

1. Dispatch a reaction unit – their automated dispatch system prioritises panic signals above alarm signals.

2. Attempt to make telephonic contact with the client.

3. In the event of confirmation of an incident in progress, reinforcements will be dispatched and the SAPS will be contacted.

4. Should telephonic confirmation by the client be unsuccessful, the primary reaction unit will inspect the premises and, in the event of a hostage situation in progress, the unit will report their assessment to the monitoring centre which will notify the SAPS for back-up and intervention.

l Reaction unit will not engage or enter into hostage negotiations, but secure the scene until the SAPS arrives.

Humphrey said their experience had been that perpetrators would more often than not flee the scene of the crime in the event of the alarm siren being triggered.

However, in the event of a silent panic or duress activation, ADT currently dispatched two units.

Where it was found to be a “positive” incident and suspects were still on the premises, the suspects would be approached or the premises searched only after all back-up resources had arrived.

* Gert Olivier, from SSG, said there was no right answer to the question because every situation was different.

“We don’t want wild shooting where homeowners and small children can be hurt. Security officers must protect lives at any cost.”

What was important was for their staff to be trained to react in all situations and they needed to be equipped and comfortable with using firearms.

“They must have the proper training and the backhouse support to help them,” Olivier said.

No time to press the panic button

Fran Swart pays a monthly fee to a security company.

But this didn’t stop the recent armed robbery at her house in Dunkeld West, Joburg – because she had no chance to press the panic button for help.

Swart works from home and was letting a client out at midday when she noticed “a fancy BMW” parked at the bottom of her driveway. She ran into the house and closed the door.

Four men were on her property, another in the car.

“They kicked down the door and hit me over the head with a gun,” she said.

They also cable-tied her two children, the domestic worker and the gardener.

Swart believes the men had either military or police training because they were very clinical.

They closed gates and curtains so that nobody could see inside the house.

“The first thing they asked was if I had pressed a panic button. I never had the chance,” she said.

They stole jewellery, money, her handbag and sunglasses. They then tied up Swart and put a duvet over her head. She found it very traumatic because her children were with her.

The whole operation took 18 minutes.

“Having a security company didn’t help at all. When the guard did arrive, all he was interested in was the value of what had been stolen,” she said.

“Watching comments on the eBlockwatch Facebook page, I now know that even had I pressed the panic button, the guards would probably not have come in. They would have just sat outside.”

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The Star