Uncertainty over how looting and violence will affect crime rates
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Johannesburg - While the vast majority of police resources in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng were diverted to sites of mass looting this week, experts think it is still too soon to determine what impact this will have on other crimes.
Institute of Race Relations (IRR) senior policy researcher Marius Roodt believes that the large gatherings which descended on shopping and industrial complexes to ransack the goods inside has meant that the police in these regions were unable to conduct their normal crime-fighting duties.
“It’s hard to say at this early stage but it seems likely that the police will not have been able to respond to other crimes during this period,” he told The Saturday Star. “It will take some time to see what exactly occurred but it seems quite unlikely that the police will have been able to have managed to combat other crimes.”
Meanwhile, Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies, warned that the lootings could inadvertently result in a spike in other crimes such as armed robberies as police are taken up by dealing with looting and recovery operations.
“It’s difficult to tell at the moment, but we will know once the monthly crime statistics are made available in October,” he said.
Newham believes that the lack of adequate police intelligence ahead of the lootings in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng is partially to blame.
“Clearly there were not enough officers available to adequately prevent the large crowds that looted and destroyed businesses in both provinces. Part of the reason may be that they did not receive adequate intelligence or information about planned attacks and could only react rather than prevent them.”
Roodt agreed and added that the police were outnumbered by those who were looting.
“It’s clear that the police have been under-resourced and unable to handle the large number of incidents and there have been anecdotes of the police asking for help from private citizens for resources. It’s not surprising that the army has now also been mobilised to deal with the issue.
“At the same time, anecdotal evidence again indicates that occasionally police have (especially in KZN) not done anything to stop incidents or have even been involved themselves. However, it must be stressed that the evidence for this seems mainly anecdotal at the moment.”
Despite the scenes of utter destruction in parts of the country, Roodt believes that the situation can be somewhat salvaged if the volatility is managed fast.
“It’s hard to determine, but if the unrest is controlled reasonably quickly in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and it doesn’t spread to other parts of the country, it’s possible there won’t be any longer-term consequences (on crime), but this is unlikely.
“Even if things are contained from now on (as they seem to be), the consequences of the past week will be felt for some time.”
South Africa’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic that was also disrupted this week by the looting.
Apart from the breach of lockdown regulations and a complete lack of social distancing, Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said their officers were unable to enforce regulations.
“The JMPD have been assisting the SAPS and other law enforcement officials with dealing with the looting as well as the recovery of stolen goods, but we’ve had to scale down some of our other operations, like the setting up of roadblocks to monitor the lockdown regulations.”
Despite the chaos which ensued in South Africa this week, crime-fighting organisation eBlockwatch founder André Snyman said it gave many communities the opportunity to come together and assist each other during these trying times.
He said that his organisation, together with Community Police Forums, private security firms and community members assisted residents in how to deal with other kinds of incidents and to prevent paranoia while the police’s attention had to diverted elsewhere.
“We provided vital information on what people should do in the event of spotting loiters near their homes or properties, or what they should do if, for example, someone was lighting a fire in a park.”
Snyman also said the increased security along with the lockdown measures have meant that criminals now have nowhere to hide.
“Criminals are scared because people are at home more and are on high alert. Movement and travel is also restricted and criminals can no longer disguise or hide in a crowd like they used to, and use the element of surprise to pounce on unsuspecting people.”
The SAPS did not respond to The Saturday Star’s queries regarding the impact looting will have on crime in the country in the coming months.