His decades count in the city

2015-09-15 06:00
Colonel Johan Marais recently took up the post as the commander of the detective branch at Cape Town Central police station.

nicole mccain

Colonel Johan Marais recently took up the post as the commander of the detective branch at Cape Town Central police station. PHOTO: nicole mccain

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With over 2000 cases a month, the Cape Town Central police station’s detective branch is a busy place.

But it’s nothing new branch commander Colonel Johan Marais can’t handle.

“The detective environment is probably the most challenging. But it’s what you make of it,” he says.

Marais joined the police service 33 years ago and has been a detective for 32 of those. His first case, while stationed in Grahams­town, was the theft of a TV camera at the National Arts Festival.

He took a street person to lunch and assured him any information on the crime would be rewarded. Little did he know the man would bring him information to catch the perpetrator and return the camera, or that he would become one of his best informants.

A relationship with an informant needs to be built on trust, Marais explains.

It’s this very principle he brings to his branch and staff and which he hopes to foster in the community.

The station is fortunate to have good community cooperation in the form of partnerships with security companies, the Central City Improvement District and the Community Police Forum.

But a lack of information from the public is still one of the biggest challenges.

“If you park your car at 08:00 and you notice at 18:00 when you get back to it that it was broken into, where do we start?” he says.

Its cases like these that witnesses can play an invaluable role.

“More active involvement from the community can also assist police in speedier response times,” Marais says. “In any investigation, the first 24 hours are the most important. It’s easier for someone to remember things a few hours after they happened. They will remember less the next day.”

Wrapping up cases can take anything from a day to a week, depending on the complexity of the case.

The branch deals with everything from the theft of washing to murder, and is divided into four main units. These deal with violent crime, economic crimes such as theft, direct arrests – which include drug possession and shoplifting – and fraud.

While the station sees double the amount of cases as other stations, there are fewer serious crimes such as murder in the area, Marais says.

Marais has worked at over a dozen stations during his career, most recently in Khayelitsha. He has also served on a number of specialised units and was one of the founders of the organised crime intelligence unit and commanded the organised crime unit.

“Once you have become a detective there is nothing else you want to do,” he says. “There are frustrations and challenges, but I wouldn’t want to do something else.”

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