/ 7 December 2007

Firearms ‘have completely changed the face of crime’

Not only are robbers hitting more houses, they now prefer to strike when residents are at home, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said on Friday.

”It’s fairly obvious that this is what’s happening,” said ISS researcher Johan Burger.

”There seems to be a correlation between the decrease in burglary figures and the increase … in the house-robbery figure,” he said, but added that this might not be the only reason.

The police announced on Thursday that house robbery went up by 7%, business robbery by 29,3% and truck hijacking 53,3% in the six months from April to September.

In the past, burglars would watch houses to establish residents’ patterns, then break in while the people were out and they would face no resistance, said Burger.

The availability of firearms in the crime market in the past couple of years had ”completely changed the face of crime”.

Firearms enabled criminals to confront people, something which was a lot more difficult in the past.

Victims would put up a lot of resistance if attacked with knives, whereas just pointing a firearm at someone would almost lead to their guaranteed cooperation.

Instead of burglars having to search a house for what they wanted, robbers could now obtain bank cards and pin numbers, and the codes for safes without a struggle.

”[It’s] a much more certain way of getting what you want,” said Burger.

”This has become the preferred method of stealing from people.”

He said the recent 7% increase in house robberies was over and above a 25% increase last year.

Although this type of crime accounted for only 11% of all aggravated robberies — business robberies made up 7,4% and car hijackings 12% — it was growing.

”[It] becomes more serious every time the crime statistics are released.”

He expected the police and criminal justice system to really focus on ways of fighting house robberies.

”At the moment, it’s the one crime … that causes the most fear.”

Burger said the country’s biggest headache in the past few years was still the level of violence in crime.

”Violence is the one element in our crime that creates the most fear in people’s worlds,” he said.

While the ISS had considered studying the phenomenon, it had decided to wait for the outcome of a probe by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said on Thursday that the police had received their preliminary report, but that the final report would be presented to the government only in January 2009.

Describing the latest crime statistics as showing mixed results, Burger said house robberies and business robberies might have increased, but they had done so at a slower rate than in the past.

However, a new trend was the spread of these crimes — which used to be restricted to urban areas — to rural areas.

Part of the explanation for this could be that rural criminals were learning from their urban counterparts.

It could also be that they were picking up tips from monitoring the media.

Burger said that while it was relatively easy to fight this type of crime when it was geographically limited, it became difficult to fight when it spread.

”These are worrying aspects of the crime statistics,” he said.

The police statistics showed a decrease in murder by 6,6%, rape by 3,6%, attempted murder by 7,6%, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm by 2,8%, common assault by 5,1%, aggravated robbery by 9,7% and common robbery 12,3%. — Sapa