What to do when the alarm won’t help

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Stealing property from vehicles is common and the reason

Stealing property from vehicles is common and the reason some motorists install alarms is to deter such acts. Some, however, believe alarms are not effective. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By Paul Kaganzi

Posted  Thursday, December 5  2013 at  02:00

Car alarms were originally introduced to combat car theft or vandalism by drawing attention to the affected vehicle through honking horns and flashing lights.

Initially, car alarms in Uganda were a deterrent against some petty thieves and inexperienced offenders. However, with the growth of the car theft and vandalism “industry” in Uganda, car fitted alarms have become less effective.

But why have car alarms got a limited success?
Car vandalism or theft includes theft of cars or of valuables and parts of the cars. Theft of cars can be for joy riding (just for fun), prolonged use, for smuggling across borders or dismantling and breaking into smaller parts for sale on the local used market. In Uganda, the most common reasons for car theft are the latter two.

Theft from cars targets valuable items left behind such as laptops and mobile phones, car interior accessories like CD players and radios and car parts like window switches and dashboard fascia. Theft of external parts such as wheels, lights, side mirrors or complete panels. In Uganda there are more cases of thefts from cars than theft of the cars themselves. But where do these thefts happen? Most thefts happen when cars are parked on the street or in public places such as churches, football

stadiums or discotheques. Sometimes, thefts happen in private parking yards or washing bays. On other occasions, car thefts happen on the highway or at the owner’s premises.

How do these thefts happen?
Thefts happen covertly (stealthily / discreetly) by quietly breaking into the car and taking parts or valuables from it or out rightly taking the car. Someone I know parked his brand new Audi at home (in the UK) and locked it only to find it gone in the morning without hearing any noise.

Car theft can be carried out overtly (with no concealment) in cases of direct confrontation, carjacking during armed robbery or looting during situations of civil disobedience as has been the case when some elements have taken advantage of demonstrations to vandalise cars. A lady I know had her hand bag yanked through the window by someone riding on a boda boda motorcycle when she slowed down at a turning in a dark spot.

Another lady was overwhelmed along Mukwano Road when a burglar opened her door and grabbed her phone and handbag during a traffic gridlock at 7.45pm. Another friend was accosted by armed robbers outside the gate to his office and ordered to get out of his car and surrender the keys in broad daylight at 2pm. As he recovered from the shock he saw the thieves speed off with his Toyota.

Although car alarms were initially successful in combating car thefts by attracting attention to the crime scene, their success was short lived. The operational design of car alarms sometimes works against them.
Alarms can be a terrible nuisance as they let out loud decibels of sound which cause noise pollution and stress. The owners of cars fitted with alarms will sometimes switch them off permanently, especially when they are accidentally triggered.

Cry wolf syndrome
Car alarms have been rendered ineffective due to the “false alarm” or “the car that cried wolf” phenomenon. In Kampala, like other urban towns, it is common to find car alarms triggered by vibrations from bypassing trucks or motorcycles.

Sometimes accidental nudging by a passerby or even self-triggering due to an electronic glitch causes this. The result is when there is a real threat to the car during a burglary, bypassing pedestrians or parking attendants may just walk away or not pay any attention at all.

Goons in Kampala have actually used this to steal my own side mirrors by triggering the alarm several times over until the Multiplex parking attendant lost interest. Then they pounced and stole my side mirror glasswithout any bystanders paying attention. The parking attendant later admitted having heard the alarm make noise but thought it was malfunctioning.

Professionalisation and growth of the “car theft industry” has seen car thieves evolve into bolder and more daring gangs who can swiftly break into a car by smashing window glasses to yank out what they want.

Not so long ago a friend was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on Bombo Road, in broad daylight. A gang of mean looking and callous youths started walking past vehicles and plucking off side mirrors without any remorse or fear while daring the owners to put up a fight. These youth were stopped in their tracks when they started to vandalise the car of a plain clothes policeman who drew a handgun at them, grabbed one of them and whisked him away.

Sophisticated theft calls for better measures
Car thieves today use sophisticated smart gadgets to electronically eavesdrop and decode car alarms in order to gain access to the car quietly.

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