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Cosy criminals in our homes

For every household that found a house help they could trust with their lives, there’s a family that arrived home only to find their house emptied of all their valuables. We get tips from a leading security firm on how to avert a looting spree by domestic helps

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

From mega theft to petty stealing, house helps have in the recent past been put on the radar for taking advantage of their bosses’ trust to steal at every opportunity. One case that shocked the public was in September 2016, when Florence Nabwire , 20, was sentenced to four years in jail for stealing Sh2.9 million from her employer’s bedroom in Kahawa West.

Last year, another Hellen Nkatha was convicted for stealing an unknown amount of money and escaped with a gun belonging to her employer in Lavington, a licensed gun owner.

Then just two months ago, an employer returned home from work only to find her house empty after her house help left with all her household items. She was later arrested in Busia offloading the items from a van.

According to recent media and police reports, this is a crime trend that appears to be on the rise. Local authorities both in Murang’a and Nyandarua counties have been quoted in the press issuing alerts to residents over criminal gangs using house helps to facilitate home break-ins in the area.

“The fluid and unregulated nature of the industry means that your house help could well be a threat to your safety,” says John Ogutu, Securex Senior Operations Manager. Ogutu says the subject of hired helps is one that has always drawn contrasting opinion, with many having vastly different personal experiences with their domestic helps.

“A good number of house help bureaus that have sprung up in almost every estate have turned out to be conduits for thugs and kidnappers, and many people have lost their property and even children through such housegirls,” he offers.

This trend has coincided with a marked increase in the volume of criminal activity targeting residential areas across the country. “As per our database, we have noted a 32 per cent increase in crime that happened in residential areas countrywide.

Of this activity, 13 per cent comprised theft and armed robbery in our homes. With particular focus on Nairobi alone, 21 per cent of the activity happened in residential areas.

And 11 per cent of this crime involved armed robbery, while a further 15 per cent comprised theft. We have also recorded a number of incidents where houses were broken into while the occupants were away, perhaps pointing towards insider information,” he reveals.

Ogutu tells employers that keeping your loved ones safe at home should begin with your choice of hired help. “We would advise that you rely on a referral from a trusted friend or family member rather than hire through a bureau,” Ogutu says.

Also, it is important to vet anyone before hiring them to work around your home. Any potential employee should first be interviewed, where their background and professional track record should be questioned. Investigate their criminal background by asking for a Certificate of Good Conduct where possible, and ask them to give you references who can vouch for them.

Even after hiring a house help, monitoring and supervision remain key to ensuring they harbour no ill motives. “We would advise that an employer should invest in some form of surveillance technology to keep an eye on their house helps and nannies.

This came in handy in Murang’a, where a house help was arrested after she was caught on CCTV footage helping two suspected thugs break into her employer’s home,” Ogutu notes.

“You should also periodically check on your possessions, particularly small valuables such as jewellery. Rogue helps can take something small and easy to conceal as they proceed on their day off for example,” he adds.

Employers should also consider restricting their help’s access to certain parts of the house, such as the master bedroom. This is, especially, important with instances where a homeowner prefers to hire a help on weekends alone for example, or for particular tasks such as laundry.

In conclusion, Ogutu advises against having a frequent turnover of domestic workers in one’s home, arguing that this only exposes one to more risk: “This doesn’t mean that they should be pardoned for doing wrong, but perhaps we can explore alternative means of correcting their conduct other than terminating their services altogether,” Ogutu says.

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