Cash-in-transit heists: How they pull it off

2018-06-10 11:46
A heist in Boksburg resulted in two armoured trucks being bombed. The robbers fled with an undisclosed amount of money. PHOTO: Sifiso Jimta

A heist in Boksburg resulted in two armoured trucks being bombed. The robbers fled with an undisclosed amount of money. PHOTO: Sifiso Jimta

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They hire hotel rooms for meetings to plan their next hit, need powerful cars for speed and big money for bribes.

Cash-in-transit heists are tertiary-level crimes that rookie criminals have no hope of pulling off.

These are the findings of research by criminologist Mahlogonolo Thobane, who interviewed 40 cash-in-transit robbers in prison for her master’s degree thesis on the crime.

This crime is also not for blabbermouths and the faint-hearted. As one offender said in Thobane’s paper: “You must be brave. You can’t just recruit anybody, especially those who talk too much.”

Special abilities such as being a sharpshooter or an exceptional getaway driver, or having skills with explosives and computers, are among those needed to make it into a heist gang.

Thobane’s subjects revealed sharp reasoning skills, adding that “people who commit cash-in-transit robberies are very intelligent”.

“Reasoning capacity is important [and], if you are too weak in reasoning, you won’t understand that we have guns not to shoot, but just to scare the people,” one offender said, adding that “we shoot only if there is reaction”.

Planning appears to be the most critical part, Thobane was told. Depending on the “complexity of the job and how desperate you are, it could take up to four weeks or more of monitoring and planning”.

“If it’s a lot of cash, we take more time to survey the place. You need to know which branches are prone to police response; how many robbers you will need for the job; and you need to check out surveillance and see how many trucks are delivering and where,” one offender told Thobane.

For this, you need inside information. Thobane told a panel discussion on heists last week that, in many instances, robbers got information from security guards and bank employees.

Risks are taken sometimes and there is also competition between gangs, which might lead to some sort of first-come, first-served race.

“There was only one incident we hit after only one day of planning because we were under pressure to act since another gang was watching the same cash van,” said another robber. “We have a meeting, we scout, look at routes and discuss the style of stopping, such as hitting head-on or bracketing or shooting the tyres. We use malls or parks to have our discussions.”

But there are those who believe in same-day service. “Some take about a month to plan and others scout and bathu, meaning we hit on the same day,” another inmate said.

Planning includes checking where the cameras and panic buttons are located, planning getaway routes, the use of an “off-ramp” (described as a getaway vehicle that is parked about 2km from the crime scene waiting for the robbery to be completed), calculating getaway time and the distance from the planned crime scene to the safe house.

To pull off a successful robbery, criminals cannot be poor or inexperienced.

“Check out the robots and manipulate them on the day. It is very important that you have money to prepare for the next robbery because we travel, rent hotels for our planning sessions, and buy or hire weapons and vehicles,” an offender said.

Thobane said it was not only the heists that police should worry about. Cash-in-transit heists are a “crime generator” – it takes many other crimes to pull off a successful hit. Robbers need to have successfully pulled off other crimes beforehand – they must have already stolen or hijacked cars, obtained illegal firearms and ammunition, and raised funds for bribing the police.

Police involvement

One of Thobane’s subjects revealed the importance of involving police officers in any planned hit. She said 71.8% of her respondents “indicated how successful they have been in their careers as armed robbers because of connections they have with law enforcement officials”.

A team planning to carry out a cash-in-transit heist will go as far as robbing a police station for firearms and, during the heist, rob security guards of their weapons.

One said they would disarm police officers “from the townships because they like going to shebeens with their guns and they get drunk ... they also like visiting their girlfriends with their service vehicles”.

The recent spate of cash-in-transit heists has led to extensive dialogue about why the crime has spiked.

Thobane believes criminals spot an opportunity and seize it – for example, when the police’s “crime intelligence was lax or nonexistent” and at a time when there were other “issues with the police service”.

On Wednesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said police were “beginning to turn the corner”.

“You must remember that, for six years, crime intelligence didn’t have a head, now we have a head. For some time, the Hawks did not have a head, now they do,” he said.

Explaining why there was sometimes a drop in crime categories, such as cash-in-transit heists, Thobane said “crime displacement” occurred when criminals suddenly realised their current activity was getting “riskier and then move to less risky ones”.

Cele said more police units were out fighting heists, but Thobane said this would not necessarily help.

“There may be 1 000 officers, but are they properly trained and skilled to deal with this crime? We’re talking here about people who are professionals, heavily armed, meticulous in planning and precise when they attack,” she said.

Spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said the police had arrested 16 people in connection with heists since Monday, including a man who is number two on the police’s list of top 20 most-wanted heist criminals.

“More significantly, cash-in-transit heists seem to have subsided ... before this week, we used to have at least one a day. We’re not saying we’re there yet ... but criminals know now we’re out there and they don’t know where and when we could pounce on them,” Naidoo said.

Read more on:    crime

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