How criminals are taking advantage of increased load shedding in South Africa

 ·17 May 2022

Private security firm Fidelity ADT says that while it has not seen an increase in general criminal activity during power outages in recent weeks, it has found that criminals are taking advantage of load shedding and changing their modus operandi in some areas.

It comes as state power provider Eskom is increasing power cuts to prevent a total collapse of the grid – implementing load shedding at stage 3 on Tuesday evening, having escalated load shedding to stage 4 on Monday. Stage 2 load shedding is expected to continue for the rest of the week.

The rationing is due to a “significant shortfall” of generation, chief executive officer Andre de Ruyter told reporters. “Extraordinary measures” are needed to improve the system, De Ruyter said. “The performance has been quite disappointing.”

According to Bloomberg, citing Eskom chief operating Jan Oberholzer, approximately 36% of total installed capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns, while South Africa is headed for a record year of power cuts if the rate of station breakdowns fails to improve.

Load shedding and criminal activity

Statistics for the Fidelity ADT footprint do not indicate an increase in general crime during load shedding, but there are certain opportunistic criminal events taking place, the security firm told BusinesTech.

“We are seeing an increase in alarm activity in terms of both emergency and non-emergency signals. It is important to realise crime is largely opportunistic and seasonal, irrespective of load shedding.

“We have also seen increased reports on social groups of cable theft. We believe criminals are taking advantage of the fact that there is no electricity to steal high-power cables,” it said.

Alarm systems are powered by a battery and not only by electricity. Fidelity ADT said that ongoing power cuts will cause a battery’s effectiveness to deteriorate faster and homeowners will need to replace the battery more frequently than usual.

“When an alarm battery drains or is faulty there is a higher likelihood that the alarm will malfunction and send activation trigger alerts – this, in turn, raises the number of false alarms we encounter during load shedding.

“We strongly recommend that people test their systems on a regular basis, but during load shedding, this is more important than ever.”

Shifting modus operandi

“As we know, criminals are opportunistic. They are always looking for an easy way in. Load shedding is another opportunity for them to exploit,” said Fidelity ADT.

“Although within the Fidelity ADT footprint we have not seen a spike in crime generally, we believe suspects are definitely taking advantage of load shedding and changing their modus operandi in some areas.

“They look at the power outage schedule and then before the scheduled power cut, they trip the electricity at the electric box, disarm the electric fence and often derail the electric gate and then burgle the property.

“With the extended power outage, many alarm battery systems are unable to fully recharge which we believe criminals also take advantage of.”

It said that unsuspecting residents are caught off guard thinking it is just an earlier outage than planned. “Criminals are also more brazen attempting to break in during the day,” said Fidelity ADT.

Home safety habits to remember:

  • Batteries should be checked regularly.
  • Alarms and energisers should be checked during extended power outages to keep systems running.
  • Lock all doors and windows all the time. This applies to your house, your vehicle and any outbuildings on your property. This applies whether you are at home or not.
  • Keep valuable items out of sight. Never leave keys, wallets, cellphones or any other small items on a table or anywhere close to a window.
  • If you are worried about your security when there is no power, call your private security provider to check the premises.
  • Do not ignore SMS messages that refer to low battery.
  • Make sure that your alarm batteries are working optimally, if you aren’t sure call your security provider to test.
  • Make sure that your electric fences are connected to a backup battery.
  • Power cuts can impact fire systems and fire control systems; so these also need to be checked regularly.
  • The more frequent use of gas and candles can increase the risk of fire and home fire extinguishers should be on hand.
  • Above all, remain vigilant during a power cut; be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and report this to your security service provider or the SAPS immediately.

Read: Large security company flags a spike in this type of crime in South Africa

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