A Vodacom shop at the Kloof Village Mall was targeted by a group of robbers. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko/Independent Media
Durban – Durban security companies are pleading with SAPS to create a special task team to stamp out the increase in attacks on stores in shopping malls, before any more innocent employees or customers are injured.

At least six stores, selling jewellery, watches, cellphones or electronic goods have been robbed in the metro area within three days from Tuesday night to Friday morning.

The pleas come after the latest robbery in the early hours of on Friday morning in Kloof, in which two security guards were shot.

“It’s getting out of hand; as security companies and businesses there is only so much we can do. We need police to establish a special task team to deal with these crimes. These criminals are becoming increasingly brazen and targeting shops during the day when customers are around, the safety of the public is at risk,” said Nikki Mohlman, community projects manager at Enforce Security.

On Friday morning, a Vodacom shop at the Kloof Village Mall was targeted by a group of robbers. The security guards were held at gunpoint while cellphones and an undisclosed amount of money was taken. Two security guards were reported to have been shot.

Just hours before, on Thursday night at 8.15pm, the Watches Unlimited store at the Watercrest Mall in the Upper Highway area was hit, with robbers making off with substantial loot. While security guards gave chase on foot, a shot was fired before the robbers fled in their getaway vehicle.

Also on Thursday night, thieves looted an electronics store at Gateway Shopping Centre at 11pm. According to reports they took cellphones, MacBook pros and the two-way radios used by guards. One guard was hit on the head with the butt of a gun.

On Wednesday morning a gang of nine armed men smashed their way into Musgrave Centre’s Watches Unlimited and an MTN shop at 5.40am, getting away with watches, laptops and cellphones.

At 10am staff at the NWJ jewellery store at Westwood Mall were robbed at gunpoint.

On Tuesday evening a group of seven or eight men robbed Mahomed Jewellers & Watchmakers at Southway Mall in Rossburgh, leaving within minutes with watches and silver jewellery.

The Pearls in Umhlanga has been targeted recently.

Mohlman said they had also asked SAPS to appoint an officer to lead the investigations, whom security companies would assist with any information they had.

“Security companies do work together and share information, it’s one of the ways to beat criminals. We have weekly meetings with the police, which is useful, but we need a bigger plan now as this is getting out of hand,” she said.

One of the reasons criminals were turning to shopping centres, she said, was because of the effectiveness of neighbourhood security bodies.

“We have seen communities getting together and forming a strong defence against criminals, with street patrols and alert residents. But now that the criminals are finding it difficult to get into homes, they are targeting shopping centres where it is more lucrative. Also, if they target shops during the day, they know that security guards cannot immediately fire a shot if there are lots of people around,” she said.

Kyle van Reenen, of Marshall Security, agreed that business robberies were on the rise.

“We have noted the increase and we are all concerned as at the end of the day this is a matter of public safety. We have a good working relationship with the local police stations, especially Durban North, but it would be a good idea for a special task team to tackle these crimes,” he said.

Reaction Unit South Africa’s Prem Balram said most robberies occurred at night, but people may still be at risk.

Balram said they were urging businesses to lock valuable goods that have been on display during the day away at night.

Security companies have also urged employees and customers to be aware of their surroundings, and report any suspicious activities.

If people are caught in a robbery, they must not engage with the criminals, who could be armed and dangerous.

KZN SAPS spokesperson Thembeka Mbhele said police were still in the early stages of the investigation, and would not be drawn on whether a task team would be created.

A Pavilion spokesperson said security would be beefed up this weekend. “We have increased the security staff component to heighten surveillance measures externally, including patrolling our parking areas and we have increased the number of armed response guards who are strategically positioned around the centre to ensure customer safety. Spike barriers have also been installed in parking areas as a preventative measure.

“The centre has upgraded the camera system allowing for improved visibility throughout the centre,” she said, urging people to ensure car doors were locked because of car jamming.

La Lucia mall centre manager Vanessa Blevins said an excellent CCTV system and communication between mall management and tenants were some of their ways to stop criminals.

Independent on Saturday