Centre for blind target for criminals

2016-08-23 06:00

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A facility to serve the visually impaired has been the target of criminal activity for the third time in three weeks.

The League of Friends of the Blind (Lofob) centre on the corners of Klip Road and First Avenue was victim to opportunistic criminals last week.

Lofob CEO Armand Bam says: “It is rather depressing news but we are at a loss with how to address it.

“The community needs to be made aware that this situation is getting out of hand and we fear for the lives of our staff and clients as it seems these efforts are escalating. We have experienced three break-ins since Monday 25 July – one per week,” Bam says.

He explains during the first incident the suspect(s) “climbed a drain pipe alongside the building gaining entry to a window on the second floor of the building”.

“In the second incident two thieves broke the lock to our main gate and then gained entry through a door by force. The most recent incident which took place at 04:00 on Wednesday 18 August followed the same forceful entry pattern,” Bam says.

He confirms all three incidents occurred at the Lofob residence, housing more than 30 blind people and daily providing them with accommodation and meals while they participate in their independence development programmes.

“The latest attempt was the most brazen as the thieves tried to break the lock at the gate, but failed. They then scaled the wall and used a crowbar to gain entry to the front door and walked through the residence and out one of the other exits,” he says.

Criminals got away with items on the first two incidents.

“The first incident affected one of our clients whose voice recorder and clothes with sentimental value were stolen. The device was used to record notes for exams which are now lost. In the second incident two mobile phones of staff members on-site were taken. Fortunately they were not in the rooms and no-one was harmed. We haven’t identified anything stolen in the third incident as yet, but it has left staff and clients visibly traumatised and having to receive counselling. Staff members had taken cover in a cupboard calling the police while the thieves tried to gain entry to their room,” he says.

Bam says police arrived to take statements and provide case numbers at the first two break-ins “but offered no hope of apprehending any suspects”.

“Lofob has made requests to increase the visibility of police in the area as our clients are vulnerable due to their sight loss and it is clear these thieves are taking advantage of this with their cavalier approach. In the third incident police responded, speedily dispatching a vehicle and officers, but did not gain entry due to the lock on the gate. They were subsequently let in through another entry point. By this time the suspects had left the premises,” he says.

Bam says the facility, which offers services at no cost to the blind, has been forced to improve the safety and security processes at the centre.

“This will come at a great cost to an organisation that offers its services at no cost to our clients. That being said, no cost can replace the life of one of our clients and we will have to raise the funds as soon as possible. The damage done to one door has made it irreparable. It has an estimated replacement value of R6000. The overall solution is estimated to be in the region of R50 000 conservatively due to the area that needs to be covered,” Bam explains.

“It is disappointing to see that these continued attacks take place especially where people are placed at greater risk due to their vulnerability. We call on community members to be vigilant and assist in protecting the lives of our clients. We also call on anyone who can support financially or in kind with the necessary upgrades that need to be made, to contact the Lofob offices,” he says.

Lofob public relations officer Heidi Volkwijn says the incidents have been “unsettling”.

“This is really an unfortunate situation. The residents at the centre feel their safety has been jeopardised. I have been at the centre for more than 20 years and we have never felt so unsettled,” she says.

Volkwijn says clients at the centre are taught mobility and independence which encourages them to empower themselves by walking outside to the shop on their own or to the doctor.

“But now if one doesn’t even feel safe on the inside of a building, naturally they are not going to feel comfortable being outside that building either,” Volkwijn shares.

Bam says Lofob was working with the Department of Community Safety to have a mobile safety kiosk at the centre “but due to many logistical and bureaucratic challenges this has not yet been finalised.”

Grassy Park police spokesperson Wynita Kleinsmith confirms that a case of housebreaking with the intention to commit an offence was opened for investigation.

“According to the complainant she was asleep at about 04:10 on Wednesday 18 August, when she was woken by a scratching noise at the door. She woke her roommate (and they) heard the person scratching and putting on the light,” Kleinsmith says.

“The complainant then phoned the police who arrived within minutes, but the suspect was gone. The suspect is unknown and nothing was taken,” she says. Kleinsmith confirms housebreaking as well as theft out and from motor vehicle is a problem in Sector 2.

“But what we have seen is that a lot of vehicles are broken into and valuable loose items that are left in the vehicle are taken.”

Kleinsmith offers these tips:

  • A dark house is a signal that no-one is at home. Good lightning can deter a thief; burglars dislike exposure to light.
  •  It is wise to fit peepholes to all main doors.
  • Hedges, scrubs and plants should be kept to windowsill height.
  • Never employ domestic or garden workers off the street without checking references or obtaining identity numbers.
  • Keep your dogs visible – they are a deterrent.
  • Get a burglar alarm and ask your neighbour to look after your place when you’re not at home.
  • Start a street WhatsApp group.
  • Join the neighbourhood watch.
  • Always be wary of your surroundings.
  • Report suspicious vehicle and people in your area.

  • Keep serial numbers of valuables in a safe place in order to identify it if stolen.
If you would like to assist League of Friends of the Blind, call their offices on 021 705 3753 or alternatively email info@lofob.org.za.

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