FOLLOWING a number of business robberies in Ficksburg, Harrismith and recently in Bethlehem, the police in Bethlehem carried out an anti-crime operation in the central business area. The main focus was to search, verify citizenship, interact with shoppers and alleviate fears. Linked to that, several business owners gathered on Saturday, 30 July, at the Bethlehem Town Hall to launch the local Business Forum. Shop-owners and managers shared tips on how to lower the risks of crime, deal with emerging crime patterns and made a commitment to work with the police.“We are making serious inroads. Over the past few months we have witnessed a general decline in crime in Bethlehem. “The sporadic robberies are the only notable difference. With this in mind, it is important to reassure consumers and the entire business community that we have put plans in place to increase security with immediate effect. “Tourists visiting the Eastern Free State and shoppers from neighbouring towns must feel and be safe,” said the Bethlehem cluster commander, Maj. Genl. JJ Tsotetsi. Three suspects were arrested after an armed robbery at a retail store in the Phuthaditjhaba Crescent Mall in Phuthaditjhaba.They had robbed clothes, cellphones, jewellery and an undisclosed amount of cash. The robbers locked the workers inside an office. When they left, the workers were freed by a client who heard them screaming for help.On 27 July, the Phuthaditjhaba Crime Intelligence Unit received information about the whereabouts of the suspects. Accompanied by the Trio Task Team and the Tactical Response Team they headed to Gauteng, to a house in Protea Glen in Soweto. There they found a 37-year-old woman in possession of clothing and shoes from various retail chain stores. They also searched a BMW parked in her yard and found a hidden pistol and a magazine with live rounds. The firearm is believed to have been robbed from a motorist at Mondeor in Gauteng that had been reported stolen.The arrest of the woman led police to an address where two suspects, aged 37 and 24, were arrested. The two were positively linked to the alleged robbery in Phuthaditjhaba. The police are still looking for other suspects, who are believed to be in hiding. The three suspects appeared briefly before the Phuthaditjhaba Magistrate’s Court on 29 July, facing charges of armed robbery and the possession of suspected stolen goods. “In July there had been a sharp increase in crime, especially in the Free State where chain stores, ATMs and cash in transit were targeted by armed robbers. “We believe and hope that the arrest of the three suspects will assist our investigating teams in cracking other outstanding armed robbery cases in the Free State. “I want to congratulate the members for successfully closing serious cases. Their following up of information shows there is a good relationship between the police and law abiding citizens of this country,” said the acting provincial commissioner, Maj. Genl. Eric Gela.