Call to probe cop station break-ins

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Independent Newspapers

Durban - “Cheeky” criminals were behind a series of break-ins and thefts at police stations in KwaZulu-Natal, the province’s head of detectives said yesterday, warning that it has made police more determined to nab and deal with them.

“Police buildings in KZN are not unsafe; that would be an exaggeration,” Major General Mjabuliswa Ngcobo said in an interview. “But, the fact that there have been a few incidents suggests a risk at some of the stations. Management has met and a plan is being put in place to secure all police buildings.”

In the past two months, three KZN police stations have reported break-ins:

Last month, thieves made off with 10 firearms and 12 cellphones from a secured police exhibit room at the eMkhomazi (Umkomaas) police station.

“It had to have been an inside job,” a police source told the Daily News. “No-one from the outside could have walked in and helped themselves to the exhibits.”

Three weeks ago, a radio, television and computer monitor vanished from a secured office of a captain at the Bayview police station.

On Sunday, criminals broke into the Berea SAPS detectives offices in Lambert Road and stole computer hard drives and laptops containing sensitive information, as well as cellphones and torches. The suspects were nabbed less than 24 hours later in Ndwedwe.

In October, hundreds of guns from police station exhibit rooms across the province were reported missing from several police stations, including Greenwood Park, Umbumbulu and uMlazi.

Ngcobo

said beefing up security at police stations in KZN was a top priority. Proposals to hire private security companies to secure police buildings was being looked at, he added, although this needed to be budgeted for.

Said Ngcobo: “Criminals who target police stations are very cheeky. The fact that they have the guts to rob police stations, makes us determined to deal with them in the strictest possible manner. Police stations will not become soft targets for criminals in KZN.”

Responding to claims that rogue cops could be behind the break-ins, Ngcobo warned: “If you are corrupt, then you are not one of us. You too will be brought to book.”

He said in a bid to root out corruption in the police force moves to re-establish anti-corruption task teams were at an advanced stage.

With regard to the arrest of the suspect in the Berea police station break-in, Ngcobo said bail would be opposed.

“We want to set an example in this case. Hopefully, this arrest will be a deterrent.”

A senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, criminologist Johan Burger, said in recent years police stations in KZN appeared to have become the target of criminals.

He described this as a “sorry state of affairs”.

Burger said: “This is sending out a negative message to the public. It tells them that the police are incapable of protecting their property. How then are they supposed to protect the citizens of this country?”

Police management should take stringent measures to protect their property, he said. “Valuables should be locked in a safe. Often, no budget is cited as the reason for poor security at police buildings. In my view, this is just an excuse for inefficient management.”

Burger said it was recently revealed that approximately 6 000 firearms were lost or stolen from police officers every year. Only 10 percent was ever recovered.

“It has to be stopped or more and more illegal firearms will flood the market.”

He said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) should be asked to investigate the break-ins.

“They do not have the mandate for it. But, it should be considered,” he said.

“They can also help put in place measures to prevent a re-occurrence of break-ins.”

Burger also suggested that the national police inspectorate be asked to investigate why there were so many break-ins in the province and why police in KZN failed to protect themselves adequately.

KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas believed poor police discipline was to blame.

“At so many stations exhibits are not properly secured. Safe keys are left lying around and there appears to be no accountability,” she said.

“This lack of discipline has resulted in criminals targeting police stations.”

De Haas said station commissioners needed to be held accountable. “Taking action against them will be a deterrent,” she said. - Daily News


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