South Africans should expect a spike in crime during COVID-19 alert level 3.
This is according to two major security companies who spoke to MyBroadband regarding crime trends they had observed during the national coronavirus lockdown.
The SA Police Service has said reported cases of most crimes dropped drastically during lockdown when compared with a similar timeframe in 2019.
Minister of Police Bheki Cele said they saw a significant decrease in several types of contact and trio crimes since the lockdown started on 27 March up until 19 May 2020.
When compared to the period between 29 March and 21 May 2019, the number of cases of murder was down by over 60%, while rape and assault dropped more than 80%.
Reported cases of carjackings decreased by over 70%, robberies at non-residential premises fell more than 60%, and robberies at residential premises were down by nearly 50%.
Certain types of crime had increased when compared to previous statistics released on 20 April, however, indicating a possible spike at the start of level 4 lockdown.
This is expected to continue as the relaxation of movement restrictions and resumption of business operations under level 3 create more opportunities for criminals.
Security companies anticipate a rise in both serious and petty crimes such as household robberies, cash-in-transit heists, theft, and the hijacking of vehicles.
MyBroadband spoke to national private security group Fidelity ADT and a leading private security provider in Pretoria East – the Bull Security Group – about crime during the lockdown and what they expect will happen now that South Africa has entered lockdown level 3.
Bull Security group spokesperson French Jooste said serious crimes such as house robberies and vehicle theft increased in the Pretoria East area over the last week of May and he anticipates that crime levels will continue to climb in June.
“I think that during level 3, crime will be back to normal, petty crimes especially will pick up as a lot of people are currently unemployed.”
“We are preparing ourselves for a lot of [wall] jumpers during night time,” Jooste said.
The company has deployed more vehicles in its footprint to increase visibility.
Bartmann said Fidelity also expects an increase in the number of residential crimes such as housebreaking and theft.
The company offers security services for the transportation of cash, which Bartmann believes will once again be a prime target under level 3.
“With South African businesses starting to reopen, we anticipate a rise in the number of Cash In Transit (CIT) incidents and expect increases in the number of commercial vehicles being hijacked for goods, particularly if the economy remains subdued,” Bartmann said.
Poverty driving petty crimes
Jooste believes there is a correlation between how the lockdown is affecting the income of many South Africans and the rise in petty crime in Pretoria East.
Bull Security noted a big spike in break-ins around Pretoria East over the last two weeks of May, which he suggested was primarily driven by increased unemployment.
“People are hungry and not able to generate any income during the lockdown. We’ve noticed a lot of beggars on street corners – more than ever – and it happened very suddenly,” Jooste said.
“At the shopping malls, we get daily complaints of beggars walking around asking for money,” he added.
Jooste said these beggars are often found to be the ones committing petty crimes.
Crime during lockdown
Jooste said there has been a significant decrease in overall crime in the Pretoria East area, particularly during the first two weeks of lockdown.
However, after this period, the company observed a gradual rise in attempted house robberies, When alert level 4 was introduced, they noted a spike in vehicle theft, with Toyota Hilux bakkies being prime targets.
Fidelity Services Group CEO Wahl Bartmann said his company had also noted an overall decrease in serious crimes, including household robberies, hijackings, and follow-homes.
“If one compares household robberies for example in the same period last year in our specific footprint, we were looking at approximately 1,000 incidents. This had decreased to 200,” Bartmann said.
However, Bartmann said there had been an increase in certain opportunistic crimes with the introduction of allowed exercise times during level 4 lockdown.
Specifically, an increase in the theft of electronic devices such as cell phones from joggers, walkers, and cyclists, and laptops and iPads through open windows and unlocked car doors had been observed.
“Opportunistic thieves are aware that families will be working remotely from home and that children are continuing with online schooling via electronic devices,” Bartmann explained.
“As such, these criminals were on the lookout for easy opportunities to take advantage of vulnerable properties and of people being out and about during 06:00 and 09:00,” he added.
In addition, he said copper theft was an aggravating problem for many business and residents around Johannesburg during this time.
Bartmann said while crime had dropped, there were clear indications that household distress had risen during the lockdown.
This was based on the disturbances Fidelity has had to respond to during this time, as well as comments on its WhatsApp and social media groups.
“There were a number of angry and threatening messages directed at neighbours and those breaking the lockdown rules and the curfew,” Bartmann said.
“While this is not yet being reflected in the SAPS statistics, it is definitely something to watch, as evidenced by the increase in calls and the number of loud family disturbances the company is responding to,” he said.
“Although we have no firm stats yet, we believe mental wellbeing is as big a concern under COVID-19 as physical health,” Bartmann said.
His comments were supported by Jooste, who said the company had recorded a “massive spike” in domestic violence, in addition to an increase in cases of suicide over the entire lockdown period.
Jooste and Bartmann provided advice on how South Africans can protect themselves and their possessions as crime makes a comeback during level 3.
These include the following tips for households:
- Store possessions such as cars, bicycles and garden tools out of sight.
- Equip gate motors with lock and anti-lift brackets.
- Ensure electric fencing is in working condition and that it is linked to an alarm system.
- Install sufficient outdoor lights around the premises.
- Let large dogs sleep inside to prevent them from being poisoned.
- Be aware of where panic buttons are installed, or provide everyone with a mobile panic remote.
- Inform children in the house of the necessary emergency telephone numbers.
- Notify domestic workers and gardeners that no one is allowed on the premises without permission.
- Keep in contact with neighbours through the creation of street or area WhatsApp groups.
- Check your surroundings for anything suspicious when arriving at home.
Bartmann also noted a number of precautions particular to leaving the house:
- Carry identification in the event that strangers need to notify emergency services about an incident.
- Use a mobile tracking app from your security company to notify first responders.
- Tell someone you are going out so they can raise the alarm if you don’t arrive back on time.
- Wear clothing that enhances your visibility to traffic and bystanders.
- Vary your routine to limit criminals’ capability of planning an attack.
- Keep your phone charged so that you can always communicate.
- Exercise with someone to discourage attackers.