Gangs travel far for fast heists

2012-06-30 00:00

GONE in 240 seconds!

That’s how long it takes four burglars to smash their way into a Durban home and to drive off with a quick haul of household goods.

Not even an electronic garden gate stands in the gang’s way, as footage captured on a home surveillance system of the brazen daytime heist reveals.

The video shows one man buzzing the intercom several times to make sure no one is at home.

With an accomplice, the pair forces open the gate, snapping off one of its arms. Two others in a double cab Toyota bakkie drive down the short driveway, then all four use a crowbar and brute force to open the front gate and kick down the door.

In a flash they are in and out with a flat-screen TV and a handful of other small unidentified items.

The video clip offers tantalising proof of the existence of the so-called five-minute gangs who pop up in an area, wreak havoc on home owners, and then disappear just as quickly.

Police have refused to confirm whether they exist, but a special report compiled by a Durban private investigator claims to have identified at least three such gangs.

And according to the findings, the burglars work in groups of four or five, prowling suburbs in luxury cars to avoid suspicion.

The cars — Audis, Mercedes and double cab bakkies are popular — are often leased from hire companies. Avis chief executive Wayne Duvenage admitted they had a tough task screening customers.

He said cloned or stolen credit cards were usually used, coupled with fake licences. Criminals also arrived in suits, carrying briefcases, adding to the perception of credibility.

“As you close one loop, they find another,” he said. “They are very fast.” Nevertheless, Duvenage said the company “hot-lists” the identities of “known crooks” presented at the counters.

Photographs of recovered vehicles in the report clearly show false number plates are stuck on with double-sided tape. Mileage reports show the gangs travel large distances to commit their burglaries.

Weekend Witness has seen a copy of the report, compiled in April after a spate of burglaries in Durban North. The video was taken in 2011.

What the report also shows is just how mobile the gangs are. One gang leader has a list of 38 counts levelled against him, mostly for theft, robbery and housebreaking in Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal.

In February, The Witness reported how homes in Pietermaritzburg were being targeted by gangs operating in identical fashion.

Two luxury cars were used and the targets were houses in the wealthy suburbs of Hilton, Wembley, Chase Valley and Montrose. Appliances, cash, jewellery and firearms were taken in at least two instances.

Police claim to be making breakthroughs, though. In April they raided a flat in Durban’s Point and found a stash of household goods worth R3 million. Among the items were 19 brand-new plasma TV sets, 60 laptops, another 20 older flat-screen TVs and 15 desktop computers.

A 36-year-old man was arrested and appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on charges of possessing suspected stolen property. Police were unable to confirm the status of the court matter this week.

In a press statement at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said there was evidence to suggest the goods were destined for black-markets in Africa.

This week police said investigators were still trying to trace the rightful owners of the confiscated goods.

They were also reluctant to confirm the existence of five-minute gangs, saying cases tended to be sporadic.

Spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said numerous house robbery arrests have been made in various areas in the province.

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Don’t be a victim of the quick-strike gang

WE asked Greg Finch, a managing member of ET Security Systems, for some tips to guard your home. The key point was to build as many layers of security as your budget will allow. This list is by no means exhaustive.

- Use magnetic locks on your gates, like those on bank doors. It slows a criminal down, buying you and the security company time;

- Place perimeter beams around your garden. These can be costly, but they are an important layer;

- Consider an electric fence on your perimeter wall, as this hinders a criminal from simply jumping over and interfering with your gate motor;

- Think of getting cameras outside and inside, and link these to a mobile device like a phone or tablet, to monitor your property yourself;

- Light up your property at night. Dark spots attract burglars;

- Feed your dogs in the morning. At night, on a full belly, they sleep soundly;

- Put security gates inside your front door. This is a surprise tactic to buy you time. And if possible, place another gate between the bedrooms and main house;

- Vet all staff you employ;

- Keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles in your neighbourhood, especially high-end cars that you would otherwise ignore.

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