Cape Town - Savvy robbers who dress up or down and drive suitable cars to blend in with their surroundings are causing a dramatic upsurge in suburban crime.
Western Cape deputy police commissioner Major-General Sharon Jephta and the Claremont Community Policing Forum discussed the issue with residents of the suburb on Wednesday.
“It would appear that the modus operandi is to surprise people as they alight from their vehicles in driveways and then instruct families to enter the houses which are subsequently robbed,” said Mark Kabat, chairman of the forum.
“The criminals are heavily armed and under no circumstances should they be confronted or challenged as this could cause a tragedy,” he said.
Both Jephta and Kabat advised residents to be vigilant and to note suspicious people or activity. But this was difficult, they conceded, because the robbers knew how to blend in to avoid suspicion.
Jephta noted that there had been a surge of home invasions in other policing precincts (Delft, Khayelitsha and Nyanga) and that the criminals adapted their appearance, attire, behaviour and even vehicles so as not to appear out of place.
“These criminals follow a very distinct pattern,” said Jephta. “They stake out neighbourhoods for days. They wear clothing and drive cars which make them blend in. In Nyanga they will dress down and drive an ‘amaphela’ (sedan) taxi; in a leafy suburb they will drive a Mercedes. They gain knowledge of their potential targets’ daily routines, without attracting attention. It is therefore important that people in the current hot spots, and in general, adapt by changing their routines coming and going.”
Jephta speaks from experience. Last year, as she left home for work early one morning, a group of five men appeared “as if out of nowhere” on the pavement next to her gate.
Usually she would have opened the gate herself before getting in to her car, but that morning her husband had done this for her. The men, she said, looked disorientated and nervous when they noticed the change to her gate-opening routine that morning. Two crossed the road and three walked off in a different direction.
Investigating later, she found a spot behind a neighbour’s vibacrete wall with fresh footprints in the dirt where, she suspects, the men had been waiting for her.
Kabat advised motorists to keep a close eye on their rear-view mirror, to ensure that they were not followed as they approached their homes. If there was suspicion, motorists should drive to the nearest police station.
Reversing into a driveway was better than driving in, Kabat said, because then the driver could make a quick escape to the street and to safety in case he or she was approached by gunmen.
“Groups of individuals seemingly chatting and joking among themselves while standing on the street near a potential victim’s home have also been identified as a threat.”
Although the warnings from police emphasise the avoidance and prevention of home invasions, Jephta conceded that more home invasions were likely before the end of winter.
Criminals preferred winter because it got dark earlier and there were fewer people on the street on winter evenings.
In most cases, victims cannot provide police with an accurate description of the perpetrators, Jephta has found, despite robbers rarely covering their faces.
Victims should try and take note of defining features: scars, tattoos and general appearances which could assist police in identifying them.
She said identifying the criminal was hugely important for police investigations, because most robbers were professional enough not to leave any evidence, such as fingerprints, at the crime scene.
Jephta advised against challenging the robbers, because their tendency to leave victims uninjured did not mean they would not use violence if they deemed it necessary.