Tuesday, November 18, 2003

House alarm

[ Barred ]

The house alarm system went off suddenly at about 3 a.m. It's been awhile since this last happened so I can see that Dad was rather wary as he unlocks the grill at the bottom of the stairs to get to the alarm control box. Yep, we installed an iron grill at the stairs such as the one you normally found only at front doors of other people's homes. At night, once everybody is upstairs, the alarm system will be activated and the grill padlocked. If anyone happens to have a craving for ice cream or keropok in the middle of the night, then he / she would have to unlock the grill, deactivate the alarm, have the snack, re-activate alarm and padlock the grill again. It was quite a hassle that we usually just don't bother and wait till next morning. The alarm system is the one that's connected by the phone line to the security company. Therefore every time the alarm went off, someone from the company would always call the house to ask whether everything is okay. If it wasn't answered, they'd contact our handphone numbers and if there is no answer at all, they'd regard that something is wrong and would notify the local police at once. We used to have the alarm system where the siren will sound loudly if it was triggered, you switch it off and that's it. Dad changed the system after we got burglared twice last year. Within a fortnight. Thus the paranoia.

It was a rather traumatic experience for us, especially for my 13-yr-old cousin. Till today, she always take her time to check the front door before opening if someone knocks, and would switch on the alarm if she's home alone regardless of the time of the day. She also refuses to put out the garbage after dark, and would insist that someone accompany her when it's her turn to feed the cats at night that I stopped asking her to do those things these days. The rest of us? We always lock our bedroom doors, and would repeatedly ask what's the matter if someone knocks on the bedroom door in the middle of the night. A strange sound would immediately be followed by a cautious perimeter check and a call to the neighbour. Handphones are kept under pillows while sleeping.

You may wonder, what's with the bedroom doors? Well, let this be a precaution for those who have never experienced anything that we had. These robbers, their typical modus operandi is once they got into your home (by prying open the sliding door, cutting through the window bars or the 'ear' part of the front grill that you insert the padlock - they don't care how big the padlock is, it's the 'ears' that they'd cut) - what they'd first do is to cut your phone lines. Then they'd check the bedroom doors. If it's unlocked, they'll just get in and one would stand guard over the sleeping person while the others start rummaging through your stuff and later asking you where the rest of the money / jewellery is if they're still unsatisfied. Woe betide for anyone sleeping in the living room, this person will be used as 'bait' to knock on the bedroom doors. They bank on the nature that people will always open the door when a family member knocks. We were told by the police that if all rooms are locked, they would usually use the gas container from the kitchen to crash the door open. Us? The first time, I forgot to lock my bedroom door, and another cousin was sleeping in front of the tv. The second time, Dad didn't lock the door as Mom was away.

The men of the house will be tied, and the robbers would put a person at knifepoint so others wouldn't retaliate. They usually take the knives (the big ones) from the victims' own kitchens. During our second time, they weren't satisfied with the lack of jewellery, and we had to repeatedly tell them that we had already been robbed just two weeks ago. I still shudder at the thought of one of them putting a knife to Dad's throat and pressing him to tell where the jewellery was (they thought we had a hiding place). They took a lot of valuable stuff including some of Bro's engagement gifts for her fiancee-to-be (their engagement was in two weeks' time), but we are most thankful to God that nobody was hurt either time. Things that were taken, we can always buy again in the future. Dad told us to regard those as 'bukan rezeki kita'.

What I'd tell people based on our experience are these:

1) Invest in an alarm system that connects you to a security company as people won't really bother to check when the siren went on and then is switched off (the robbers may force you to key in the code to switch it off). Our system has two codes to switch off the siren, a normal code and a distress code. If the distress code is punched in, they would straightaway notify the local police.

2) Store your knives out of sight at night, especially meat cleavers and parangs. These are free additional weapons for robbers.

3) Lock bedroom doors at night. Discuss to have special code names if a robber forces a family member to knock on bedroom doors, i.e. using different names e.g. calling for 'Ibu' or 'Ayah' if your child usually calls you 'Mama' or 'Abah', or use the child's full name instead of the usual 'Along' or 'Adik' or 'Mimi'. The key is, something that would act as a trigger to the person inside that something is wrong, so they could try get outside help (calling the neighbour or police using a handphone). This could be practiced.

4) Keep handphones under pillows, not on the bedside / dressing tables. Have at least two of your nearest neighbours' handphone number on speed dial. Inform each of them that if anything happens to your house, you'd be calling him.

If it happens to you:

1) DO NOT aggravate them or start to fight. These people are desperate and would not think twice to hurt your loved ones. Unless you are sure that you are in a better position over them, let them take whatever they can and leave.

2) Discreetly, try to remember their faces and other characteristics (dialect spoken, clothes, scars on faces, tattoos). This will help you to identify them if they are caught, or they could be in the police files - this will help the police in their investigations.

3) After they leave, call the police immediately, then notify your nearest neighbours. The robbers may still be nearby or attempt another break-in. If they didn't get your handphones, that is. They will always cut off the house phonelines. Ensure that they have left the house first though. Know what I did the first time? I tried SMS-ing my friend using my handphone under the pillow while they were rummaging the room (I thought nobody would notice, haha). Suddenly a grubby hand appeared before I could press send and took the phone away. He just stared at the screen for the longest time, which was saying 'Rumah ada perompak, tlg pgl polis'. God, I thought I'm finished. But then he just put in his pocket. Scary.

4) Do not start cleaning up or putting things back on shelves before the police arrive. They would want to take pictures as evidence, and to lift fingerprints from surfaces (if any) for their investigations.

The robbers who robbed our house were still not caught, but we had been able to identify two of them from mugshots in the police files, and a couple of fingerprints were identified (immigrants with expired PRs). The whole thing was a harrowing experience, and I do hope that others take precautions to prevent this from happening to their homes and families. It's always worth it to play safe, and remember that nothing is more precious than the life of your loved ones .

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