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Cape Town - One hundred and fifty seconds. That’s all the ruthlessly efficient syndicate of armed robbers dubbed The Crowbar Gang need to quickly and methodically clean out suburban homes in Cape Town.
Security specialists say homes are usually targeted in the day, and the robbers know they have two-and-a-half uninterrupted minutes before security firms are alerted and send out a team.
Smartly-dressed and well-spoken, the gang can quickly jimmy locks on security gates and front doors, using a crowbar. Once inside, they work like a well-oiled machine. One goes after flat-screen TVs, another looks for jewellery, a third for a safe, while others seek expensive electronics – cellphones, laptops and tablets.
Although police deny the existence of a specific Crowbar Gang, southern suburbs neighbourhood watches and security companies disagree, saying the modus operandi of the robberies – sometimes done simultaneously in two different areas – suggest a syndicate.
Ridwaan Matthews, managing director of Sniper Security, believes the gang includes security officials and armed response technicians with insider knowledge. He said the gang always broke in through the front door, apparently because members knew that when a window was broken, the alarm was activated immediately.
Once the alarm was set off, it took up to two minutes for the signal to reach the armed response company’s control room, before a team was dispatched.
“To a criminal, 60 seconds is a lifetime,” Matthews said.
Some of his clients have installed a CCTV camera system which worked with an app on their smartphones. It allows clients to view live footage of various areas of their homes, from wherever they are, when the alarm was triggered.
He showed Weekend Argus footage of the Crowbar Gang in action, taken from a camera at a client’s house. It showed a man being dropped off, then ringing the bell. When he gets no answer, he breaks in through the front door using a crowbar, and is then joined by his accomplices.
However, if someone is indeed home, the men flee.
Shaza Security head Sharief Ismail claimed the gang had been around for a few years, and had initially targeted homes on foot.
Recently, however, they had begun using “showroom cars” which were hijacked elsewhere.
On why they used a crowbar, Ismail said: “Because nothing can stop a crowbar. A crowbar is faster than a key.”
He said the Rondebosch East and Crawford areas were gripped by fear. But the situation had united them as they looked out for their neighbours.
Announcements had been made at the local mosque to warn people of the gang’s activity, and community members were working with him.
“They don’t hurt you, provided that you don’t put up a fight,” Ismail said.
In Ottery, Wetton and Lansdowne (OWL), community members are equally united through social networking.
The founder of OWL, who declined to be named, said the gang had used expensive cars, such as BMWs, Mini Coopers, Audis and Golfs.
“They grab whatever they can within a minute …Sometimes they don’t care whether the alarm triggers or not as they know most security companies arrive within five to eight minutes, and they are gone by then,” he said. “We need the police to become more visible in our residential areas, and not just on main roads,” he added.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said the robbers identified targets in luxury vehicles at petrol stations, at restaurants and at supermarkets, and followed them home.
He said two gang members were arrested last year, but were released due to lack of evidence.
“It is believed this is the same group involved in the latest driveway and house robberies.”
Another gang, known as the Garage Gang, has also been identified in the Crawford, Lansdowne and Rondebosch East areas in the past two months.
These robbers wait outside targets’ houses or follow them home from the supermarket or petrol station. They enter the house through the garage. - Weekend Argus