Businesses brace for crime

2015-12-16 06:00
PHOTO: supplied  High Gate Store owner Juwel Rana next to his dislodged gate and smashed door.

PHOTO: supplied High Gate Store owner Juwel Rana next to his dislodged gate and smashed door.

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PIETERMARITZBURG retail ­businesses are preparing for a ­Christmas crime spike and security ­experts are expecting fraudsters to up the ante targeting cash-flush shoppers.

And their anticipation is warranted. On Saturday night, Dunbar Spar in Cato Ridge was burgled via the roof with the criminals making off with R250 000 and on Monday morning two Northdale businesses had their security doors and windows smashed by three brazen men who made off with cash, airtime, groceries and even toys. The Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business-affiliated Business Fighting Crime acknowledged that their members are buckling up for a crime spree as the days count down to Christmas. And the city’s inner city anti-crime initiative Safe City, which monitors several strategically placed cameras throughout the city, has urged ­businesses to make sure their security equipment, especially CCTV, is of a good enough standard to help the ­police make successful arrests and prosecutions.

On Bombay Road, Northdale, burglars armed with a two-metre metal pole prised open the metal security gates and steel bars. They then smashed open windows to gain access. Despite the businesses having private security the thieves looted the stores — even taking a moment to eat an ice-cream — before making their getaway on foot into the nearby veld before the police or private security arrived. High Gate Store owner Juwel Rana said he and his staff were held up at gunpoint in November by what he ­believes to be the same gang. “In both robberies they stole ­cigarettes and the till with very little inside. The cost of buying two new tills, which is about R10 000, is more than the value they have stolen,” said Rana. Both incidents were caught on CCTV.

A small business next door had its gaming machines destroyed and lotto machine upturned while produce, including pink ice cream, lay on the floor. It is believed residential neighbours alerted the police while the robbery was in progress. But Rana, whose business was being dusted for fingerprints while talking to The Witness, said until Monday they had yet to be ­interviewed for the armed robbery.

“On 21 November, they walked in shortly after we opened, cocked the gun, put us in the back office and took cash, goods and cellphones. The ­gunman said the next time he would ‘shoot you all’,” said Rana.

Dunbar Spar security head Gary Tomlinson said the Spar had clear CCTV footage of the burglars and were offering a reward to anyone who could offer information that would lead to arrests and a conviction. Business Fighting Crime chair­person Koos Vorster said a meeting with members last week revealed that businesses had little faith in a criminally quiet festive season.

“Members are complaining about the increase in petty theft. They are ­expecting more criminal activity during the festive season,” said Vorster.

He said, according to his members the crime situation in the city had changed little from last year and they expected the same trends to continue.

He said the retail sector was the most concerned.

Lucas Holtzhausen, general manager for Safe City, said the issues being faced within the city on a regular basis are theft out of motor vehicles and shoplifting. He said scamsters will likely increase around ATMs trying to dupe people out of cash.

“Business owners must be cautious of their routines … about 70% of crimes perpetuated against businesses usually occur due to inside ­information,” said Holtzhausen.

He said CCTV may be a strong tool in analysing criminal activity, but unless the cameras were fixed on a single purpose task, such as the door, had adequate lenses and good night vision they would be useless in fighting crime.

“I have been told by colleagues in the National Prosecuting Authority that the quality of images provided to them from CCTV is usually very poor, leading to the suspect not being clearly identifiable and not being prosecuted.”

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