Davenport’s own crimefighters

2014-02-24 00:00

RESTAURANTS in Durban’s leafy Davenport district have had to band together to fight a wave of crime — including the new threat of diners who pull out guns instead of cash or cards after enjoying a meal.

A robbery at the Keys eatery in Glenwood last week — in which thieves stole computers, a television, amplifiers and liquor — was the latest in a blitz on restaurants, in which even light-fittings and outdoor chairs are being removed along Helen Joseph Road every week.

Last week, owners, tenants and representatives of community organisations met to thrash out a way to respond to the spate of crime that has hit the area over the last two months.

“The meeting came about because all the restaurants in Davenport Road have been affected by crime,” said Heather Rorick of the Bulwer Community Safety Forum (BCSF). “Thieves have either physically gone into restaurants and robbed customers, or they have taken stuff like light-fittings. It’s been a mix of theft and vandalism.”

An armed robbery took place at Amsterdam restaurant two months ago. “It was a Sunday evening and five guys came in and sat drinking for three hours,” said owner Laurence Dinsdale. “Around eight they got up and robbed the customers — they were all armed.”

Last year, a couple enjoying a pizza at Marco Polo restaurant are believed to have acted as lookouts for an armed gang who then stormed the venue, stealing wallets and cash.

Badgers restaurant was the scene of a similar armed robbery last year, said manager Tracy Robinson. “It was on a Sunday afternoon. They just sat there like customers. Then they moved and followed a waitress inside. My son was there and he had a gun held to his head.”

Robinson said Badgers had also experienced vandalism and the theft of fixtures and fittings, including security lights, copper piping and air-conditioning units.

In what Robinson describes as “the big one”, thieves broke in and stole “all our televisions, computers, amplifiers, alcohol; everything they could grab. It was around five in the morning”.

At Yossi’s, exterior lights, copper pipes, three airconditioning units and a fridge have reportedly been nicked in early morning raids.

Olive and Oil, above the Woolworths on the corner of Helen Joseph and Bulwer roads, has experienced a spate of thefts over the last few months, according to manager Ian Taylor. “They don’t break in, but they steal what they can grab, like the chairs off the verandah,” he said. “They take what they can find.”

On one occasion, a customer telephoned Taylor when he saw someone walking down the road with their chairs. “We don’t leave them outside any more,” he said.

Taylor said the thefts happen around 7 am, the time Woolworths, which shares an entrance with Olive and Oil, opens.

The final straw for Helen Joseph Road was probably two weeks ago when, according to Robinson, “almost every single restaurant had their lights and cabling stolen. Enough is enough; we decided to stand together and do something.

“We don’t want to deter people from coming to our restaurants,” says Robinson, “but you must remember this is South Africa and crime is everywhere, not just here. We must all stand together against it.”

Keys owner Gary Clayton was the driving force behind the meeting, having experienced both the problem and the solution at his premises in Florida Road, Keys on Florida.

He said Florida Road had addressed the crime problem by having dedicated security. Now the Helen Joseph Road business community is taking the same step. “We have signed up with JBC Security and now have a guard on site. If something happens, he can call and an armed response car can there be in two minutes.

“We are now getting quotes from security companies for a dedicated vehicle for the road,” said Clayton, adding that other security procedures would be implemented, including getting owners and tenants to sign in and out when they opened and closed properties. “The chosen security company would manage the security on the street.”

Clayton said the security company would also manage the “car guard issue”, referring to the often illegal car guards operating in the area. “They would make sure they are properly uniformed and check for any previous criminal records.”

Clayton said thieves use the window of opportunity between 5.30 and 7 am to commit crime. “That’s when shifts change: police are going back to the station and the security companies are changing shifts. The thieves know this and they have time to hit three or four outlets. They are in and out in minutes.”

The BCSF would happily work alongside the security company, said Rorick. “If they hire a security company, we would love to partner them. Because we patrol the area, we know what’s going on and what to look out for. Being unarmed, it would be stupid for us to take on armed criminals, but we can be the eyes and ears for a security company.”

Rorick said Helen Joseph Road restaurants had also reported an increase of vagrants in the area, “as well as so-called car guards”. She said many car guards were bogus and “as soon as they have got enough money, they buy alcohol, drink it, and sleep on the pavement”.

“We need to come up with a real solution for vagrants,” said Rorick, appealing for people not to give vagrants food. “People coming out of Woolworths give them food or cold drinks. I can understand that, people want to do good, but we would ask them not to do that as it increases the number of vagrants in the area as they know they can get food. But when they are not having a good day — not getting food — they start getting aggressive. Rather donate money to the institutions that help these people.”

Rorick said it was good to see the restaurants and businesses coming together to help each other.

“We would like to see the residents getting together as well,” she said, and eventually the whole Glenwood community.

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