By Caryn Dolley

A notorious gang-occupied complex of several blocks of flats in Atlantis has become a no-go zone for police conducting major raids and the army has to be brought in during such operations.

The situation has become so bad that even primary schoolchildren in the West Coast community have become embroiled in gangsterism and are smuggling drugs.

Police say they also have to contend with residents hooked on alcohol and drugs.

When the Cape Times joined the Atlantis police on patrol on Saturday night - a "quiet night because of the cold" - they raided several suspected drug dens.

Police captain Cyril Dicks drove around and pointed out Dura Flats, the notorious gang hotspot.

He said a number of rival gangsters and robbers lived in the flats, and there were frequent shootouts.

Last month, two men were murdered in a gang shooting there.

"When we do raids, we have to organise the army to go in because (the residents) throw stones and shoot at us," Dicks said.

Residents also physically barred police from entering the courtyards around which the flats were built, the officer said.

"We have to use all our vehicles and force our way in."

Dicks said there were 17 schools in Atlantis and gangsterism had filtered down to primary school level.

"Primary school children smuggle drugs. We have seen this."

Alcoholism was also affecting youngsters. Dicks said some parents allowed their children to drink in their presence.

As he drove around, he also pointed out shebeens and areas known for domestic violence or break-ins.

Later during the first raid, a group of officers sprinted in the dark towards a home, surrounded it, then entered.

Once inside, they began searching for drugs and weapons.

A smiling toddler, apparently oblivious to the commotion around him,was walking in between the officers as they lifted couches, took down and checked curtain rails, overturned mattresses and climbed into the ceiling.

The residents nervously watched the policemen, who found a grubby tik "lolly" and empty tik packets.

At the second home, officers startled a man, a suspected dagga dealer, while he was making a cup of coffee.

Inside the house, which had a peeling roof, damp floor and a musty smell, police found a tattered pocket book that contained handwritten notes which a policeman said were a code for drug deals that had taken place.

The resident told a police constable that a dagga parcel could be expected to sell for about R80.

In a plaintive voice, he added: "Constable, go to Dura. There they shoot each other."

Outside, two pitbulls were growling loudly and Dicks said residents sometimes let their dogs loose on police.

While the police were driving to the third residence, a voice crackled over his walkie-talkie, saying urgently: "The suspect is breaking the windows with stones."

Another crime was being carried out elsewhere.

At the third home, in which at least 13 people were crammed, officers were met with resistance.

A woman, who appeared to be drunk, stumbled out of the home and shouted: "We don't use tik. We just like to drink."

Inside the home, a little girl was asleep in a bed surrounded by empty beer bottles, boxes of wine and cigarette stubs stuck in used yoghurt containers.

Dicks then headed back towards Dura Flats, which appeared quiet for a Saturday night.

As he was about to leave, a shaken couple stopped him and told him they had been threatened in a flat nearby where a gun was being kept.

After calling for backup, Dicks headed to the flat, where officers were again greeted by stumbling, slurring people. Although no gun was found, officers discovered the flat was a shebeen.

The tenant of the flat shrieked that she needed to sell alcohol to make money.

A number of people emerged from the dilapidated flats, some of them shouting obscenities.

Afterwards Dicks headed to Wesfleur Hospital to check on a man who had been stabbed in the head in another part of town.

At the hospital, the man was bending over a basin, blood streaming from the gash.

Back at the police station a woman and her mother-in-law were waiting to tell Dicks about the woman's abusive husband.

Dicks, who had been greeted warmly by many residents during the evening, said that every day, at least 15 people came to chat to him about their problems.

In his office, there is a coffin beside his desk. Dicks said he used it during crime prevention demonstrations to drive home the message that crime could cut your life short.

[email protected]