The car-jacking statistics released at this week’s annual crime statistics briefing by the SAPS have shown a frightening 14.48% increase, with Gauteng suburbs taking the lead in the number of cases reported.
As the crime with the largest percentile increase - with 14602 cases of car-jackings last year increasing to 16717 this year - the numbers have been a concern for the public and the SAPS over the past five years.
In March, then-acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane summoned 350 station commanders from various police stations across the country to a meeting to discuss trio crimes, namely house robberies, business robberies and car-jackings. All showed sharp increases this year, according to the crime stats.
Phahlane reportedly said he was unimpressed with the 2016 crime stats and had summoned the commanders to find “lasting solutions to address the problem of trio crimes”.
He admitted the SAPS needed to respond to these crimes, and that his department was working hard to address the scourge. “Obviously, these crimes are also an indicator of the availability of illegal firearms because, when car-hijackings are being committed, firearms are involved. When robberies are being committed, firearms are being used,” he said.
He promised high-level intervention, focusing on identifying and monitoring hot spot areas.
“The SAPS will allocate resources, including budget, vehicles and additional police members to effect the plan and senior officers will be on duty 24/7 to take command and control at local level, while the national office will co-ordinate and monitor the countrywide actions,” said Phahlane.
However, this plan was unlikely to reflect in this year’s crime stats, which covered the period between April 1 last year and March 31 this year. It’s also unclear if Phahlane, who was ousted earlier this year, and his plans will help curb next year’s trio-crime statistics.
At the SAPS briefing this week, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula was quick to suggest a combative approach to serious crimes.
“The TRT (Tactical Response Team) has gone for refresher courses,” he said.
But to really put a stop to trio crimes, the police should rather be focusing on crime intelligence, according to Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies.
Newham explained that the car-jackings are often linked to organised crime, with criminal syndicates asking for “cars on order”, meaning that a specific make, model and colour will be targeted.
He said hijackings are often preferred by such criminals over simply stealing them, as they often have advanced security devices and it’s easier to take them undamaged through a hijacking.
The perpetrators of the hijackings are often not part of the criminal syndicates, rather guns for hire or “freelancers”. Once the vehicles were taken, they usually entered the syndicates' network for other organised crimes, and once they'd outlived their usefulness the vehicles were shipped out of the country.
Newham said the SAPS budget had seen a 50% increase since 2012, hence it was not a lack of resources that was preventing the syndicates from being busted. A severe lack of dedicated crime-intelligence officers unable to secure legitimate informants, along with poor management, meant these syndicates went undetected.
Earlier this year, vehicle-tracking company C-track provided theft and hijacking statistics for January to December last year, showing the worst areas were in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The company’s research showed a large portion of hijackings took place on Fridays, from 4pm to 8pm.