Expert blames recession for increase in some robberies

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pretoria - A security expert has linked the increase in some crimes, such as commercial crimes, to the effects of the economic slowdown.

Dr Johan Burger, analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, said on Tuesday that the unfortunate result of an economic slowdown was people resorting to desperate measures. .

"If you look at the fact that all the crimes that one would link directly to the economy such as commercial crime and shop lifting, have increased by around 20 percent and 19 percent respectively.

"So it does appear to be an impact from the economic downturn and it may have an impact on other crimes, such as an increase in property crimes," Burger said.

Crime statistics, released on Tuesday for the period 1 April 2008-31 March 2009, according to Assistant Police Commissioner, Dr Chris de Kok, showed there had been marginal increases in shop lifting, commercial crimes, stock theft and burglaries at residences, which reflected the current economic climate.

Further, the statistics show that a total of 121 392 cases of robbery with aggravated circumstances were reported in South Africa as compared to the 118 312 in the previous year. Gauteng came top with about 50 886 of such cases reported in the province followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 25 856 cases.

The statistics painted a bleak picture of how business robberies had swelled by a staggering 41.5 percent when compared to the previous year.

According to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, it has become clear that formal and big business remained somewhat slightly affected, while the small business sector was most affected. This sector accounts for almost two thirds of all business robberies.

Burger attributed this to the opportunistic manner in which criminals operated. He said criminals were aware that big business had access to the best private security.

"The small business sector becomes a very lucrative target because these criminals are in the first place after money and also small valuables such as jewelry and it's easy for them to take these from small businesses," said Burger.

Burger was not surprised by the drop in cash-in-transit robberies which declined by 2.3 percent. "You will remember that after 2006, we had a huge increase in cash-in-transit heists and then the police and the cash-in-transit industry joined forces, combined their resources and were able to accurately identify some of these syndicates," he said.

Burger said criminals were also becoming aware that they might end up in a police ambush, pointing to a recent case when six cash-in-transit would-be robbers were shot dead by police just outside Pretoria.

Mthethwa conceded that a greater proportion of murders, rapes and other violent crimes were taking place among acquaintances, particularly in poor communities where living conditions do not allow for decent family and social life.

He listed the high number of firearms among civilians, greed and conspicuous consumption (of alcohol) as among some of the factors that continue to drive crimes like cash-in-transit heists, rapes, assaults and others.

But Burger said even the Fire Arms Control Act will find it difficult to eliminate the problem. "You don't eliminate fire-arms over night, it will take a while because all these operations targeted at illegal fire-arms have not shown the results immediately, but in the long run, it will show results," added Burger.

Mthethwa said government was also particularly concerned about the increase in house robberies which, during the last financial year increased by 27.3 percent.