The gang demands expensive whisky from the owners of the homes they target. File picture: Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Johannesburg - In Bedfordview, high walls and clustered living are no deterrent for a gang that has a taste for expensive whisky and picks its targets at will across Gauteng.

The gang's modus operandi is distinct: it strikes in the early hours of the evening, when all the family are at home.

Security personnel say the gang numbers between five and six members, who are meticulous about choosing the residence they want to hit.

Usually they keep a home under surveillance for a couple of days before striking.

They often choose homes next to vacant houses or lots from where they launch their attacks, climbing over electric fences, then slipping through windows or unlocked doors.

Once inside, the armed robbers demand jewellery, cash and electronics.

Yet another part of their modus operandi is to get one of the victim’s children to walk them through the house, pointing out where the valuables are, while outside one of the gang usually stands guard.

But it is their demand for expensive whiskies that has earned them their whisky gang name.

The gang has even been known to give security tips to the owners, telling them to fix a back window or a unsecured door.

Finally, when they are done, the men take one of their victim’s cars and later dump it.

Over two years, this gang has possibly committed as many as 14 crimes around Bedfordview, and other house robberies in affluent suburbs across the city.

The houses targeted even appear surprisingly well-secured. They are part of clusters and surrounded by high walls. However, as security personnel point out, the gang likes to pick homes that don’t have burglar bars.

Police, however, say they are not aware of this gang.

“Although specific house robberies are reported in the area (Bedfordview) from time to time, there are no incidents that have been linked to each other.

"The suspects target jewellery and household goods, especially electrical appliances. Usually a group of two or three people, some armed and others unarmed, are involved,” says police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini.

It is gangs like the whisky gang that are driving Gauteng’s house robbery statistics.

This week the latest crime statistics released by the police revealed that house robberies across the country had shown a 7.3% increase from the previous year.

Gauteng fared worse than the national average, having experienced an increase of 10.6% between April last year and March this year.

It means that last year on average 61 households were robbed every day.

“These criminals are having a field day,” says Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies.

“And this will only stop when the SAPS crime intelligence gets politically sorted out.”

Newham believes political interference in the unit has caused the rise in violent crime.

This interference stems from the influence that Richard Mdluli, former crime intelligence boss and ally of President Jacob Zuma, still has over the unit. It has affected the quality of the unit’s leadership and morale.

While armed robbers have become more active, Newham points out that there were 290 000 drug arrests in South Africa.

“Most of these are poor people who are caught smoking dagga, and their cases go nowhere.”

However, there was a time, Newham says, when crime intelligence was getting it right.

This was when it was part of a team that was winning the war against Joburg’s house robbery gangs.

Between 2009 and 2011, a task force of 390 detectives supported by crime intelligence operatives began targeting the province’s most dangerous criminals.

The team used cellphone surveillance, informer networks and old-fashioned detective work.

“In two years they brought down house robberies 20% in Gauteng, business robberies 19% and hijackings 32%. What this shows is that you don’t need massive resources to do this,” explains Newham, who adds that a relatively small number of criminals are conducting house robberies.

“These are guys with a high-risk appetite, which acts as a natural barrier for many criminals,” says Newham.

Their willingness to take risks is what drives them to enter houses and face the possibility of being shot by a homeowner or responding police.

With the police not handling the violent crime surge, Mark Notelovitz, a director at Cortac, a residential security company, believes it is up to residents to do more to protect themselves.

“In order to deal with crime at the level of the private individual, communities need to work together. They need to make sure they have secured their homes and businesses to the best of their ability.

"They need to work together with the police and private security companies to interdict criminals before they carry out the crime,” Notelovitz says.

“We need to make the streets too hot for them.”

In Bedfordview, the fear is that the whisky gang will be striking again soon, especially after it experienced a failed house robbery attempt last week.

However, Newham believes the police ultimately need to up their game to deal with house robbers.

“These are armed gangs, and the only solution is better policing.”

Saturday Star