In our continuing Monday series about security and safety in São Paulo, Brazil in My Eyes and Born Again Brazilian take a look at safety in your home.
Safety in your home is something that you’ve probably been aware of for a long time. Some of us grew up in small towns where we never locked the front door and left the car keys in the car parked in front of the house. Some of us grew up in bigger towns and cities that require more precautions. Most of what we are talking about here is no different than the precautions you would take in any big town or city in the world. As we should emphasize, São Paulo is the second least violent state capital in Brazil. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
House vs. Apartment
Probably the most common question we get about living in Brazil is whether it is safer to live in an apartment or in a house. Although this answer will make the more precise among us a bit upset, we’re going to answer this with “it depends.” It depends on many things: the neighborhood security in general, your safety precautions, and the precautions of your neighbors.
An apartment building provides 24-hour security. A guard or two at the gate and garage, a security process to get into or out of the building as a visitor, a feeling that as one of only one apartment of many, why would you be targeted? And that is all true. Some buildings are stricter on security than others: making cars entering roll down tinted windows so they can make sure it is you in the car, having garage remotes that are harder to clone, checking IDs of all who enter and leave. When finding a place to live, make sure you ask about security procedures.
A house does not have 24–hour third party security. That security person is actually you. On the other hand, you do not have to worry about who your neighbor has just buzzed into the building, or who they’ve rented their apartment to, or if they’ve handed over their garage remote to a friend. The security system is yours. There are many options for protecting your home: electric fences, barbed wire rolls, video cameras, etc. Do what you feel is appropriate in your neighborhood—you don’t want to stand out as Fort Knox so the bad guys might wonder what is so worth protecting in your house, nor do you want to be the easiest to break into.
The best security in house or apartment is to know your neighbor. It is not very common in Brazil to have Neighborhood Watch associations as in the US, but take the time to know who has the apartment next to you or the house across the street. They may end up being your savior one day if they notice someone different coming out of your house or apartment carrying two laptops, an ipad and a large TV. Go introduce yourself to your neighbor.
In a house, your biggest vulnerability is at the moment of entering and leaving. Your house or garage door is open, you may be backing out; it is very easy for a bad guy to take advantage of that moment. If you have an option for a street security guard, you will want to take it. The only downside of this is that the more people who know your routine, the more likely that someone will tell a bad guy.
In our leafy neighborhood we pay a company (Aster in this case) for the “ronda” service. As we are approaching home, or leaving, we call the number, and they send a car to follow us to the garage, or to watch as we leave the garage. It is not foolproof—these guards are not armed. But in a case of an impulse robbery, they are one more deterrent.
If you are in a house, try to park your cars so you do not have to back out. If you leave facing out to the street, you have a better visibility for what is going on outside.
Also, if you are near a construction site (someone building a new house), be aware that the site may not have great security. Someone may be able to get into the site, and jump a wall to your property. Secure the perimeter, as a friend jokingly says.
Security procedures inside your home
Training household employees:
You must go through security procedures with your staff. At least once a year, but more often is better. Such as: calling the security company when entering or leaving the house. If someone calls asking for you, do not answer “she is not home” but rather “she cannot take the call at this time.” Work out passwords with them as well.
All workers in your house should provide their document (RG) and you should make a copy of it. You should also know where your staff lives. All empregadas and babas (long-term employees) should have their "antecedencias" checked--basically their criminal records. You need to report anything that happens with your help so it does not happen to someone else.
Be careful in handing out keys to staff. If it is possible to buzz them in and out on arrival that may be the best. This is not to suggest that the individual may be a criminal, but in the case that the keys are stolen from them. My maid was held up at a bus stop two years ago and she had our keys in her purse. We changed all locks by the end of the day as a “just in case.”
Things you may want to know as you are hiring
The very best way to get household help in Brazil is to get a referral from someone who has hired that individual in the past. While some friend-of-friend referrals (like your empregada says that her friend’s sister is available) may work out, they are not recommended. If even your maid does not know the person very well, you are taking a risk.
Be aware that any and all workers in your home (including the water or electric readers, pedreiros, maids, etc) will have a chance to look around and see what you have of value. Make sure every worker in your home has the credential of the company (Eletropaulo, NET, etc) and then don’t let them alone. My in-laws were robbed by the TVA cable guys when they left them alone in the living room (yes, my father-in-law had left his wallet there which was not the best idea).
Other optional security systems
Some security system companies can provide you with panic buttons or remotes that could help in some situations. The truth of it is that if you are followed into your house by a bad guy, you do not want to risk trying to get to a panic button. You should hand over whatever they want. If you are followed by the bad guy, and he or they seem to know where the valuables are, you will want to mentally keep a note of this. They may have been tipped off by one of the workers in your house.
If you want to get all Panic Room (we don’t think this is necessary), a military police man recommended to us that one room be lockable. So that if the bad guys decide to lock you in one room so they can toss the apartment, you have a hidden cell phone in that room so you can call the police. We think this is overdoing it, but we are mentioning it anyway.
These are some basic ideas to improving your home or apartment security pretty much wherever you are going to live in the world. Next week we’ll share some of the statistics we have about safety in São Paulo, how the emergency number 190 works, and even tell you about how a tattoo can tell you a lot about a person.