November 12, 2012
Benjamin Waitathu Gikonyo bought a silver Toyota Voxy last August from Resma Motors in Nakuru in Kenya's Rift Valley Province.
To fend off potential thieves, Gikonyo bought a security system that enables car owners to use mobile phones to monitor and disable their vehicles in case of theft.
He said it was a good decision to invest in the tracking device because on November 6th he reported to the central police station that his car had been stolen. Using his mobile security system, Gikonyo was able to trace the location of his car to Ngong Forest Sanctuary near the Nairobi border.
"The police and the company that installed the gadget accompanied me to the spot and we recovered it," Gikonyo told Sabahi. "The vehicle was towed to Ngong Police station and the authorities are investigating in order to make an arrest."
Gikonyo said the technology saved him the agony of losing the vehicle he bought for 1.2 million shillings ($14,000).
Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said mobile phone tracking has helped reduce car theft by nearly 70% nationwide over the past two years, serving as a deterrent and leading to many arrests.
Before mobile-controlled security devices arrived on the local market in 2011, an average of 15 vehicles were stolen daily in Kenya, he told Sabahi. Now the average is about five.
Similarly, investigations resulting in arrests have increased from 10% in 2010 to 60% so far this year, Owino said.
"The mobile phones revolution has made fighting crime easier now because of the available incriminating evidence," he said.
Although car theft has decreased, motorcycle theft has increased over the same time period, Owino said, urging service providers to market such tracking devices to motorcycle owners as well.
At the end of 2010, car theft was responsible for 2.4 billion shillings ($28 million) in losses, making it the most costly property-related crime in Kenya, according to Stephen Wambugu, an agent with Milltec Insurance Agency, the local service provider for Kenya's Africa Merchant Assurance Company.
"Because of that situation, insurance firms were forced to increase their car insurance premiums, but for the past two years it has come down," he told Sabahi.
The tracking devices lessen the financial burden on insurance companies and saves property owners time away from work dealing with police and insurance companies, he said.
Garissa County Commissioner Mohammed Maalim said the gadgets also serve as a deterrent to criminals. "They may fear being arrested because their hideouts are traced, which alone could be a contributing factor to the theft reduction," he said.
Nonetheless, he said the technology is not a guarantee; there have been cases where stolen cars were not recovered despite the installation of tracking systems.
Sunrise Tracking Limited is one of five companies that install these devices, which cost between 10,000 shillings ($118) and 30,000 shillings ($353) depending on the service provider.
The security system includes built-in global positioning technology that helps users locate their vehicles. "The technology allows owners to be notified when unexpected events such as an accident or break-in has occurred," Sunrise Tracking managing director Kelvin Macharia told Sabahi.
"If an intruder breaks into the vehicle, the sensors identify the event and transmit an alert to the owner's phone. The owner may call law enforcement, which may lead to arrests, or they can immobilise the vehicle by sending a text," he said.
The technology also allows owners to check the status of the car battery and the air conditioning system, and even listen to the conversations of people in the car, he said.
Macharia said more than 300 clients, both individuals and organisations, have purchased the system since the company started providing it in January 2011.
Mbetsa Innovations Limited also offers a similar technology. "Since the technology is relatively new to the market, the clientele has been growing gradually," said Morris Mbetsa, who heads the company.
Mbetsa told Sabahi that each vehicle owner is given a distinct code to activate the device and immobilise his or her vehicle if it is stolen. Service providers and installers do not have access to this information.
Although there are other car tracking devices available on the market, he said mobile-based technology is the only one that allows the car owner to be in charge.
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