Business is the new bobby on the beat

Business is helping tackle crime, with several initiatives by Business Against Crime (BAC) bearing fruit.

Vehicle theft and hijackings are down about 16% over the past five years from about 115 000 in 2001 to 96 000 last year. Even more impressive is the 30% reduction in Gauteng hijackings last year.

In 2001 there were nearly 21 000 incidents of cable theft, causing massive disruption to electricity supply, telecommunications and railway services.
The replacement cost of the stolen cable was R268,6-million; the cost of lost service and revenue being much higher, in the billions of rands.

Fast-forward to 2005 and cable theft incidents fell to below 6 500, with a replacement value of R101-million and a sharp drop in disruptions to service.

BAC can claim much of the credit. Several years ago it launched a National Vehicle Crime Project, tackling hijackings, tightening border control and disrupting the illegal trade in vehicles and parts.

That took it into the belly of the beast: the country’s vehicle registration offices, many of which had been infiltrated by crime syndicates. The syndicates laundered stolen vehicles in no time by furnishing them with new licences. All it requires is a corrupt police officer to give the vehicle police clearance, and a corrupt licensing officer to issue the new licence.

Four years ago, renewing a vehicle licence at Johannesburg’s Loveday Street licensing office took the best part of a day. Queues snaked out of the door and around the street. Today, you can get your licence in under an hour, even at peak times.

The BAC initiative tightened up security in the licensing offices and reduced the points of contact between the public and licensing officials.

Many hijacking gangs appear to have moved on to easier pickings. The BAC vehicle crime project has been implemented throughout Gauteng, and more recently extended to North West, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. “This is a project that needs to go into every licensing office in the country,” says Kenny Fihla, chief executive of BAC.

Many stolen vehicles end up crossing the border to Mozambique or Zimbabwe, so part of the BAC initiative involved improved vehicle identification to stop cross-border traffic. Electronic tags make it more difficult for chop shops to slip false engine and chassis numbers past border guards.

Things are to get a lot tougher for criminals once Parliament green lights the Second-Hand Goods Act, aimed at creating a robust paper trail in the trafficking of stolen and second-hand goods. The 70% reduction in cable theft since 2001 is due largely to better cooperation between scrap metal dealers and Eskom, Telkom and Spoornet. The Act will require second-hand dealers to register with a government-appointed body and verify the identification of anyone selling second-hand goods.

One of BAC’s first projects was setting up surveillance cameras in Cape Town and Johannesburg. CBD crime dropped by about 80% within the first year as police response times were measured in minutes rather than hours. Cameras have since been erected in Richards Bay, Bloemfontein and Kimberley.

Another BAC initiative, piloted in the Eastern Cape, is now being extended around the country. The Integrated Justice Court Centre was launched in Port Elizabeth in 2000, bringing together the police, prosecuting and correctional authorities.

The docket trial-readiness case cycle fell to 52 from 120 days and the awaiting-trial prisoner’s time dropped to 84 from 115 days, saving 53 000 prisoner days and R4,3-million.

Each month scores of criminals wanted for other crimes are nabbed due to the introduction of an automated fingerprint database.

Not bad going for an organisation with an annual budget of R38-million. Fihla reckons the economic benefits of BAC’s various projects run into billions of rands annually. “The leverage we get out of this R38-million annual budget is huge.”

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