FOR Noreen Natasha Mohd Noorajala, 31, a trip to the car park to retrieve her vehicle involves a lot of preparation mentally and physically.
First, I always take out my car key before entering the car park and I hold on to it as if it is a weapon. I want to be on the alert while walking towards my car and not have to let my guard down while searching for the keys in my handbag.
Noreen also does a quick scan of the car park before heading towards her car.
I am constantly on the lookout, and the minute I get into my car I lock it, she told reporters when met during a public forum on Safety in Shopping Complexes and Buildings.
Just about a week before the forum, her best friend for more than a decade, Canny Ong, had been abducted from the car park of a shopping centre and was later raped, killed, and her body burnt and abandoned in a manhole near Old Klang Road.
Noreens precautionary rituals, however, began long before the tragic incident took place and many women can relate to her caution.
One woman said she would quicken her pace in the car park and become wary and tense whenever a stranger approached.
A few men have reported being at the receiving end of some of this misdirected suspicion. One said he had been given the look as if I were a criminal on a few occasions when he crossed paths with a lone female in a car park.
Paranoia in the car park, some say, has risen somewhat following the media focus on the Canny Ong case.
The verdict from police is that present security and safety measures at shopping complexes and office buildings, and especially at car parks, are not ideal.
Meanwhile, checks by The Star at 10 underground and two rooftop car parks in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya revealed a mixture of good and bad verdicts.
Dingy corners in eight of the 10 car parks visited were adequately lit, while the two rooftop car parks did not have adequate lighting at night.
In one rooftop car park in a commercial complex in Petaling Jaya, many of the lights were either switched off or were not working while security guards were not seen patrolling the area.
Some big underground car parks in Kuala Lumpur had very few guards to man the area and the frequency of security patrols was too far apart.
In some car parks, a guard was seen making rounds only once every hour.
One car park in Kuala Lumpur had too many blind spots like pillars and interlinked parking areas that were not covered by CCTV, which increases the risk of patrons falling prey to snatch thieves or robbers.
Underground staircases that led to the shopping sections were also a cause for concern as they were often deserted and not monitored.
City police chief DCP Datuk Dell Akbar Khan said most premises did not employ enough security guards or install CCTVs as the owners wanted to cut operational costs.
Owners of complexes and commercial buildings should be responsible enough to make sure that they have covered all angles to prevent crime from taking place at their premises, said DCP Dell when met at his office recently.
We have told the operators before that they have to upgrade their security system and hire only trained security personnel,'' said Dell, who offered to provide advice on how to beef up security in car parks and public areas if the parties concerned took the initiative.
Brighter is better. They only need to install fluorescent lights which are cheap and that will be effective enough. A lot of the shopping complexes in the city have very poor lighting, he said.
Dell also urged owners and operators of car parks to install more panic buttons that would help guards attend to emergencies faster.
The park at your own risk concept in most car parks should also be abolished, said Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Car park management companies, the complex owner or the occupier should take the liability. Otherwise they would never take safety precautions to curb crime, she said, adding that public toilets, walkways, lift areas and rest and recreational areas should also be equipped with adequate lighting, alert security system and trained security personnel.
No point having close circuit televisions when the security personnel are apathetic and unable to monitor it to identify criminal suspects and act against criminals, she told The Star recently.
Local councils should think about all kinds of advanced technology and new inventions. Installing such security systems would be money well spent.
But Richard Chan, president of the Malaysian Shopping Complexes and High Rise Buildings Management Association, feels that the issue has been blown out of proportion by the media.
Some media reports have exaggerated the risks, so much so that it is as if going to the shopping centre is a dangerous thing to do and that all car parks are unsafe, he said.
Based on data collected from 14 prominent shopping centres in the Klang Valley, there were 205 crime cases mainly car theft, snatch theft, vandalism and cheating reported in the first three months of this year, Chan said.
Each of these complexes has a monthly human traffic of between half a million and five million people. The number of incidents is pale in comparison to the huge crowd we receive, he said.
Chan claimed the majority of the association members have complied with the requirements outlined by the police and authorities, including the installation of CCTV, lighting up all corners and hiring security guards to go on patrol rounds.
He also dismissed as rather impractical suggestions by some quarters for legislation to establish a ratio between the size of a car park and the number of CCTVs that should be installed in it.
He said based on one suggestion of 23sq m per camera calculation, some big shopping centres in town would have to install some 1,500 cameras and that would make the task of monitoring every screen rather tough.
One of the points that we keep bringing up is that hardware alone is not enough. It is pointless to have sophisticated systems when there are no trained personnel who know how to react when things happen.
At present, most shopping centres hire their own in-house security guards and conduct their own training because there is no professional centre or agency in the country for the purpose of training security guards, Chan said.
Many shopping complexes had stopped using contract guards from security service providers to have better control and monitoring mechanisms, he added.
He said the turnover was higher with contract guards because whenever complaints were lodged, the service provider would send a new team to solve the problem.
Security services providers, however, refused to take the blame, saying building managements were more concerned with budgets when it comes to investing in security features.
Malaysian Security Services Providers Association president Datuk Rahmat Ismail said providers normally advised clients on their security needs after surveying the grounds.
We usually recommend the installation of CCTV to cover all corners of the car park, to place at least one guard on each floor and other monitoring and communications gadgets based on risks assessment of the building and its surroundings.
However, more often than not, clients look for cost-cutting solutions.
Last year, 108 crimes were reported in the city at shopping complexes. They are a murder case, a snatch theft, 23 robberies, 30 vehicle thefts, and 53 thefts from vehicles.
Eighty-two cases have been recorded this year until June 22, comprising seven robberies, five snatch thefts, 26 thefts from vehicles and 44 vehicle thefts.
Dell said 36 cases were reported in hotel car parks last year, comprising seven robberies, 24 thefts from vehicles and five vehicle thefts. Between January and June 22 this year, 25 cases were reported, which include five robberies, seven thefts from vehicles and 13 vehicle thefts.