Westville’s robbery scourge

2014-01-11 00:00

THE robbery siege against Westville has been blamed on the suburb’s unique geography — boxed-in both by highways and opportunistic highway robbers.

While contact crimes like murder and rape remain low, the affluent area has suffered a 400% rise in house robberies between 2005 and 2013 — and they continued to rise last year.

By contrast, house robberies in nearby Kloof, with a similar number of residents, plunged by over 70% last year.

But one Westville neighbourhood, Dawncliffe, has provided hope for the area by slashing its local incidents, using the same street patrols method that has all but banished robbers from Kloof.

Westville residents have been searching for answers since popular Durban artist Clinton de Menezes (43) was shot and killed in an armed robbery on Waterfall Road on December 31. Within 20 minutes of the shooting, the police arrested seven suspects, including four believed to have committed the murder.

Weekend Witness understands that several of the suspects arrests in the De Menezes case represent a gang that has preyed on Westville.

Local crime fighters, including Westville Community Policing Forum chairman Kevin Harvey, attributed part of the robbery scourge to the rapid urbanisation of the region, including seven shopping malls and the mushrooming of business parks.

However, Harvey revealed that Westville’s unique characteristics also unfairly skewed some seemingly alarming crime statistics — with theft also including minor shoplifting incidents at the suburb’s malls, while murder and rape, he said, included incidents at Westville Prison.

Instead, Harvey said the true threat was house robberies and that a number of easy escape routes made Westville a sitting duck for commuting criminals.

Westville is virtually framed by the N2, N3 and M19 arteries, and dissected by the M13, all of which handle the majority of the city’s traffic.

The robbery phenomenon here has even driven the Westville station commander, Colonel Ellen Emmanuel, to undertake an academic study.

Emmanuel — who lives on a road with a private guarding station in Westville — is producing the study through the police academy in Paarl, a Unisa accredited institution, in a document titled: “Addressing House Robbery and Burglary in the Westville Precinct”.

Still incomplete, Emmanuel said her study had so far found that Westville featured an unusual gap between contact crimes and significantly higher rates of burglary and house robbery.

According to 2012/13 police statistics, house robbery reached an all-time high of 102 incidents — up from just 23 in 2004/05 — while burglary sat at a staggering 769 reported incidents after consistent increases.

Emmanuel said, “Housebreakings have reduced drastically over the past 12 months due to a number of operations we have run and arrests made, but we have seen a slight increase in armed robbery during the first nine months of this reporting year.

“It tapered off since December 31 when we arrested seven men, four of them who are accused of murdering Clinton de Menezes, and they have been linked to several other crimes.

“The community has stepped up their involvement through the setting up of neighbourhood watches, WhatsApp groups, and they are communicating more with the police by reporting suspicious behaviour.”

She said an estimated 15 neighbourhood watches operate within Westville.

Harvey said, “The social structure is semi-affluent to affluent; therefore, criminals can pick and choose their next target with ease. The suburb, previously residential, is now made up of several business parks and malls that all generate high volumes of traffic. There is a transient population passing through here every day and when one criminal gang is caught, another usually appears.”

Mike Myers, chairman of the Dawncliffe-Westville Neighbourhood Watch, said organised volunteers and a community reaction unit were beating back the robbers in his area of 550 homes.

“Two years ago, we had 26 armed robberies in two weeks. In the past 23 months, we have recorded just two crimes — one armed robbery,” said Myers.

“We have 80 volunteers and we monitor the neighbourhood up to 12 hours a day. We all run an emergency service. If a person calls for help, we can have several vehicles at a location within two minutes — any time of the day. Our mission is to grow this neighbourhood watch and never let up.”

However, while highly pro-active community policing forums, like the Kloof CPF, sometimes serve up easy arrests for police by setting their own road blocks for fleeing criminals, Myers said Dawncliff took a more passive approach.

“That is not what we are about — we are the eyes and ears for the police and avoid confrontation unless it is absolutely necessary,” he said.

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