5-minute gang strike again

2014-01-03 00:00

THE wily “five-minute gang”, who struck once again over New Year, are organised syndicates with excellent intelligence on what is in their targets’ homes and what their movements are.

The slick thieves are taking advantage of homes left empty as families holiday out of town.

They wasted no time removing valuables at two homes in Townhill over New Year.

The gang of thieves, armed with what appears to be crowbars, sledge hammers and even guns, broke into the two empty homes, ransacked the houses and made their getaway. All this within a few minutes on New Year’s Day and in the early hours of yesterday morning. Both families were away on holiday at the time.

The police said on Wednesday between 8 pm and 9 pm, the front door and window of a house in Warwick Road, Townhill, was forced open and a safe, containing R5 000 in cash and jewellery to the value of about R40 000, was stolen from the bedroom.

A source linked to a house in Warwick Road said, “This has the signature of the five-minute gang … they were quick, quick.

“They lifted the electric gate and they bashed in the front door with something that was heavy and they went inside, and stole some items.”

The insider said the robbers also broke a window. “We understand that they were also quite heavily armed. One of the residents in the area who saw them and called the police, said they pointed a firearm at them.”

Another source reported that the gang of four or five men carried a “big, long gun”.

During the early hours of yesterday morning, another home in Caldecott Street was also robbed. The house door was forced open and the main bedroom was ransacked. The safe, which was mounted to the wall in the cupboard, was also stolen. It is unknown what was inside the safe or what else was stolen.

The cousin of the owner of the second home, who declined to be named, confirmed the robbery and said his cousin — an advocate — was away on holiday when the home was burgled. “At this point he does not want to comment on the matter.”

Police spokesperson Thulani Zwane said although the modus operandi of these two incidents was very similar, police cannot confirm that they were committed by the five-minute gang.

Last month, a group of brazen burglars were caught on CCTV camera targeting Hayfields homes and getting away with mainly televisions and jewellery in only five minutes.

More than 15 residents in Hayfields had reportedly fallen victim.

A former victim, Cameron Brisbane, said that over a year since he was robbed, he had received no joy from the police and nothing of his had been recovered.

“You saw the recent pictures, they [the gang] are brazen … they do not care about cameras and they walk in without even their balaclavas.”

Rob Anderson, the regional divisional manager of RED Alert KZN, said the last complaints of such attacks he knew of were three or four months ago.

“The [security company] response time is between five to eight minutes so these people know that and have the time to smash a window and grab a TV.”

He said his company creates a presence in the hotspot areas by moving their vehicles around to those areas.

Anderson said most the homes that are being targeted are usually put under surveillance for a while before the gangs strike. “These are by organised syndicates, not by a passerby who now decides that he will break in.

“The information we have from these types of crimes is that they watch the house over a period of time, looking at who is coming or going and at what time. At night it’s easy to tell if there is someone by activity inside the house.”

He said these gangs prefer to break in while there is no one home because that reduced the possibility of confrontation.

Anderson added that the best chance for homeowners was stopping them at the gate.

“Their method is to force the gate open … there are technologies that could be put at the gate that will notify the control centre or [sound] the alarm if it has been tampered with and this will reduce the gang’s time,” he said.

THE Witness has been reporting since 2007 on what has been dubbed the “five-minute gang”, which has been operating in various suburbs, often using hired cars in order to commit their crimes. They pop up in an area, commit a couple of burglaries, then move to another area. They operate fast before either private security or police can react.

Although several members of this gang were arrested in 2008, the emergence of copycat gangs means the crimes continue.

Another gang, whose members were arrested in April last year, used a similar technique, but would only commit their crimes in the morning between 9 am and midday, leading to their being called the “mornings-only gang”.

LUCAS Holtzhausen of Safe City Pietermaritzburg said the intelligence that feeds information to the gangs comes mostly from domestic workers, gardeners, garden services and those doing construction work at the targeted homes. He said as employees spoke to their families and friends about their employer’s possessions or their holiday plans, the gangs were being fed useful information.

“They have informers and do their homework. The closest group around you may be giving out information either in conversation or deliberately. They find out where your safe is and if you have a big TV.”

He said the gangs also carried out surveillance to see when the best time to strike was, watching residents’ routines.

Holtzhausen said CCTV and dogs were the biggest deterrent against the gangs.

He advised holidaymakers to:

1) Cancel all newspaper deliveries. A number of undelivered newspapers is a telltale that there is no one at home.

2) Get someone to remove your daily post and keep it until you return.

3) If you have a neighbour or friends who you can trust then ask them to visit your home regularly to switch some lights on.

4) If you have dogs ask your neighbour or friend to feed them. If possible avoid putting them in the kennels for then they will serve no purpose.

5) If your property is monitored by a security company, report your absence to them and give them a contact name and number.

6) Regularly test your alarm system. A malfunctioning system serves no purpose.

7) If you have a home CCTV system ensure that the recording unit is safeguarded from theft.

Holtzhausen said CCTV footage that is not clear was a “waste”. He said at least one camera posted at the front door or gate should be of a good enough quality that the perpetrators’ faces or the getaway car’s registration plates could be identified.

“You must be able to convince the magistrate that the suspect he sees is the same person on the footage.”

He also advised that the recording device should be protected in a safe to prevent the thieves destroying or removing it.

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