OBS Life Januarie - Oktober 2010

Vetus Schola explains call-out fee after complaint

VETUS Schola, the private security company linked to the Observatory Improvement District, (Obsid) has assured local subscribers of its armed-response service that the call-out fee stipulated in its contract is only valid for repeated, intentional false alarms.

This follows a complaint from local subscriber Martin Rollo that Vetus Schola’s armed-response contract allowed for a R100 call-out fee for false alarms. Vetus Schola technical director Johan Marx said this only applies to false alarms activated intentionally by pressing the panic button, and only after the third such call-out. It will not be applied to false alarms relating to faulty equipment. It does not relate to alarms triggered by sensors or contacts.

Marx said the only risk in this regard is when children play with the panic buttons, but before fees will be charged, there will be ample warnings to parents to either move the position of the buttons or to train their children in the proper use of and respect for the panic buttons.

Panic button call-outs are the most expensive for security companies, as it involves fast, immediate reaction without checking by phone first. Marx said Vetus Schola uses a standard contract that will be discussed in detail with each new subscriber in future. His company is flexible in discussing variations to the contract with clients. Vetus Schola has signed up more than 20 households in the suburb since introducing its armed response service.

The company is contracted by the Obsid to provide foot and vehicle patrols of public spaces. Its armed-response service is a separate venture for the protection of subscribing households. The company has dedicated a 24-hour response vehicle manned by two security guards and a trained dog to Observatory. The service costs R275 per month.

Vetus Schola offers armed response in Obs

VETUS Schola, the security company contracted by the Observatory Improvement District (Obsid) to guard public spaces of Obs, is introducing armed response services with a response unit dedicated to the suburb. The service, which will run independently from the street patrols, will provide alarm monitoring and armed response to local households that subscribe.

A unique feature of Vetus Schola’s service is that trained patrol dogs will form part of the security team dedicated to respond to Observatory alarms. The dogs are trained to enter houses on command to search for intruders, and provide a safer option that sending armed guards in first. Vetus Schola pioneered the use of patrol dogs through an armed response contract that they hold with the construction company Murray & Roberts in Ellisras in Limpopo.

Vetus Schola director Patrick Ricketts says the dogs have proved so successful that the company has started its own dog-training unit. The armed response unit for Observatory will consist of a vehicle dedicated to Observatory, manned at all times by two armed security guards and one dog.

Ricketts said an armed-response contract will cost R275 per month, and the installation of a basic alarm kit, consisting of a radio unit, two infrared sensors and two contacts, will cost R1 890. The new service will make Vetus Schola the only security company with a response unit dedicated to Observatory.
Observatory Armed Response has a unit, but has recently been exposed as operating without being properly registered, as required by law, and has been accused by customers of abusing debit orders to withdraw unauthorised amounts from their customer’s accounts. ADT, which up till now has been the most popular armed response company in Obs, does not have a vehicle dedicated to the area. Ricketts said Vetus Schola’s public-area patrols which it carries out for the Obsid will not be used for armed response services, except in extreme circumstances where it will act as a back-up.

Ricketts believes, however, that Vetus Schola’s competitive advantage in providing armed response in Observatory lies in the good relations with community leaders and law enforcement agencies that it has built up through its Obsid work.
Vetus Schola’s Matthew Jellen can be contacted on 021 949 9035 or 082 748 1577.

New Obs security chief

OBSERVATORY has a new security chief, or, if that sounds too desk-bound, think of him as the head bobby-on-the-beat.

Denville Bugan, a security man with almost a decade experience as a supervisor, was appointed this month as Vetus Schola’s site manager. He is responsible for coordinating the patrols and actions of the 22 guards who monitor the streets of Observatory around the clock. At any one time, there are two teams consisting of five guards each patrolling Observatory - one on the mountain side of the railway line, and one on the Hartleyvale side. Each team has a supervisor who reports directly to Bugan.

Because most crime in Observatory is drug related - addicts impulsively stealing what they can to buy their next fix - Bugan’s team concentrates on disrupting the trade as much as possible. It is a difficult and frustrating process, because although they often catch buyers and runners, the dealers, who operate from a distance by cellphone remain elusive and will only be caught through concerted police action.

Bugan believes his most important task is to keep his patrollers motivated. “It’s not easy spending twelve hours on your feet,” he says. He wants to see recognition being given through incentives such as awards for arrest of the month, guard of the month or most arrests in a certain period.

Consistent support for the tough decisions that his guards have to make on the street is also crucial to keep them motivated. He feels that the 36% drop in crime over March is good, but “there is definitely room for improvement”. This will almost certainly improve once the security guards move into their permanent operations room at the Observatory station. At present, they operate from a wendyhouse in the Pepper Square car park.

Bugan called on members of the community to contact him directly with any crime or security-related matter. His number is 074 717 6501.

Crime down by third as OBSID kicks in

STATISTICS show that crime fell by 28% in the first four months of the Observatory Improvement District’s existence compared to the same period a year ago. And crime in March dropped by a whopping 36% compared to March last year.

OBSID manager Brian Amery says he suspects that the decrease of crime in Observatory is happening against a general increase in crime levels elsewhere, making the success of the security initiative even more remarkable. The positive trend means Observatory is well on its way to reach an overall 60% reduction in crime which other improvement districts have achieved, usually more than a year and a half after launching.

Also encouraging is the fact that the early success of the OBSID has been achieved without the use of a CCTV network, expensive infrastructure that takes years for an improvement district to build. Chances are that the OBSID will be able to establish a state-of-the-art system relatively soon if it manages to piggy-back on the existing monitoring centre run by the Black River Office Park.

Rather than any spectacular breakthroughs, the decrease in crime has largely been due to the visibility of the OBSID’s security contractors, Vetus Schola, whose patrollers pro-actively pursue petty criminals and make sure that suspicious persons know they are being watched. 

But Amery says “a lot of homework” is being done to fix major underlying causes of crime such as the active drug trade in Observatory. He expects major police action in the near future.  Amery says that even more encouraging than the statistics is the emergence of spontaneous community support on all fronts to improve Observatory. “I think the community’s got a sense now that we can win this sort of thing. A lot of people are stepping forward saying ‘What can I do?’ I think before there was this sense of ‘whatever I do, it’s going to be wasted effort’.
Examples include support emerging for the work of the Noise Action Group which lobbies mainly for the compliance of nightclubs and restaurants with their licence conditions, as well as the Nanny Network that emerged from the recent kidnapping scare.
Meanwhile, the Obsid’s own security initiative has been strengthened with a dedicated site manager (see article below) to co-ordinate what are essentially two teams of patrollers, one on the mountain side of the railway line, and the other on the Hartleyvale side. Previously, the two groups reported to an off-site manager.