Police struggle under hijack strain
The ability of gangs to steal up to 10 cars a day is greater than the capacity of the existing Durban police task team to combat this scourge
SCRAP dealers, car theft syndicates and opportunistic gangs are cashing in on hijacking vehicles in Durban – to the tune of about about 10 cars a day. To combat the scourge police are planning a special investigative division dedicated to combating hijacking.
“The hijacking problem is greater than the task team we have in place,” admitted KwaZulu-Natal head of SAPS criminal investigations, Director Solly Vezi on Friday.
Vezi said despite the task team’s successes over the past two years, it was too small and under-resourced to investigate the volume of hijacking cases reported in Durban.
So the task team is to be bolstered and a new investigative directorate established to combat hijackings and syndicates.
These disclosures come amid public concerns that hijackings in Durban are on the increase. But according to the police – and insurance companies – this is not so.
“There’s actually been a decrease over the past few months. It’s just that the latest incidents have been more dramatic and violent, and have captured media attention,” said head of the anti-hijacking task team, Captain Iqbal Dawood.
Dawood and SAPS spokesman, Superintendent Muzi Mngomezulu, said con- cerns published about “KwaZulu-Natal suffering at least one hijacking a day in the past week” were incorrect.
“One hijacking a day would be paradise compared to what we are dealing with,” Dawood said.
“On average, there are 10 hijackings a day in the Durban south and north areas alone,” said Mngomezulu.
This figure excludes areas beyond Hammarsdale in the west, Stanger in the north and Umgababa in the south.
While Hollard Insurance and other companies have noted a decrease in car theft and hijacking claims over the past year, Dawood said the number of hijackings occurring was beyond the capacity of his unit to properly investigate.
“We mostly take on positive cases where there has been a positive link to a suspect,” Dawood said.
He said the 17 detectives under his command were investigating 30 to 40 cases at any one time – some of them handling more than 60 dockets.
He said 388 cases had been referred to his unit last year, resulting in the arrests of more than 400 suspects, and 40 convictions so far.
In addition to this, about 30 to 40 suspects were arrested each month, Dawood said.
Dawood said that the number of prosecutions now taking place meant that many of his detectives were spending more time at court, as opposed to out in the field investigating.
He said although his unit liaised closely with other agencies, including organised crime and crime intelligence there was a need to consolidate this anti-hijacking work.
He said this would help in investigations into syndicates, including links to corrupt cops and officials in the Road Traffic Inspectorate.
Dawood said his unit had come across instances of such collusion, but would not divulge specific details.
He said scrapyard dealers supporting the market in stolen parts also needed to come under closer scrutiny.
“They are fuelling the market in stolen vehicles,” Dawood said.
So too are people who knowingly buy stolen parts.
He said while hijacked vehicles had been recovered in Gauteng and also outside South Africa, most were taken to local “chop shops”, reassembled and sold with new licence registrations.
Besides organised hijackings, increasing numbers of opportunistic cases were occurring where people were often hijacked not for the vehicle, but simply for their personal possessions, Dawood said.
He said the increased levels of violence associated with hijackings were a disturbing trend. Dawood said generally hijackers did not want to draw more attention to themselves, which murder investigations would do.
“But if they are challenged they will shoot,” said Mngomezulu. “Don’t ever think that the gun they might be waving is a toy.”