Cape Town - The armed robbers striking in shopping malls around the country, but especially in Gauteng and the Western Cape, are highly-organised, highly-experienced career criminals, MPs heard on Wednesday."We need to recognise that these robberies are systematic and planned by organised criminal groupings... We are saying that these robberies are organised crime, targeting the retail industry," Consumer Goods Council of SA (CGCSA) crime risk initiative head Graham Wright told members of Parliament's police portfolio committee.Referring to the recent sharp rise in the number of shopping centre robberies around the country, he said the criminals had moved away from taking cash, and were now hitting consignments of goods."And we see that the cellphone shops [and] the jewellery shops are being targeted, and those organised criminals are moving from one target to another, depending on where the possibilities lie."So we need to treat this as organised crime, and put the might of law enforcement to investigate and deal with it," he said.The CGCSA represents over 12 000 retailers, wholesalers, and consumer goods manufacturers.Wright said the consumer goods sector in South Africa employed 2.9 million people, contributed R18.6bn towards taxes, R89bn towards exports, and made up 14.8% of the country's GDP."It's a very, very important industry for the national economy... so any crime-related threat imposed on [it] is a national threat as well."He said there were more than 18 000 retail outlet robberies around the country last year."[And] especially from last October , there has been a significant increase in robberies... targeting the business community across the country."Police operations head, deputy national commissioner Khehla Sithole, pinned the recent spate of shopping mall robberies on "career" criminals."What we are experiencing now are what we call career criminals. They wake up every day, they go to work, and they sit in what we call criminal powerhouses."They keep on analysing, full-time, all policing interventions; they look at how they can infiltrate the police, how they can infiltrate the community," he said.ArrestsResponding to questions, he told the committee the police had, to date, arrested more than two dozen mall robbers."Up to now, we do have 20 dockets registered, with 19 in custody. And just the day before yesterday, we arrested another five."He said problems with mall robbers did not end with their arrest."One of the challenges we are facing... is that there are not too many criminals that are responsible for robberies. It's few group of repeat offenders. Highly experienced criminals."They also know how to pave their way through the criminal justice system. They try their level best. If you take them into custody, you need to work hard to make sure they stay there, otherwise they come out."Referring to the police's festive season anti-crime initiative, dubbed Operation Duty Calls, he said the police had intensified their patrols in and around shopping centres."We've got a festive season operational plan running. It has been launched. We are taking the criminal head on now..."We intensify patrols at the malls. We already have engagements with the mall security teams."He declined to give any operational details.Sithole said many of the firearms used in mall robberies were stolen."Some of the robbers that we arrest... use legal firearms... [but] the majority of the firearms that are used, are stolen or robbed firearms," he said.According to figures tabled at Wednesday's committee meeting, there are over 1 900 shopping centres across the country. The large malls - those over 75 000m² - attract over a million shoppers a month.