Spate of armed heists puts Gauteng’s malls on guard

Posted On Friday, 14 October 2005 02:00 Published by
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A RECENT spate of shopping centre heists in Gauteng has prompted fears that organised criminals are turning their attention to these soft targets.

Wendy Hall

A RECENT spate of shopping centre heists in Gauteng has prompted fears that organised criminals are turning their attention to these soft targets.

With the festive season looming — traditionally retailers’ most profitable months — mall managers are hastening to reassure the public that they will be safe, despite recent shootouts and robberies inside shopping centres.

Gangs of up to 30 members have hit more than 50 shopping malls in Gauteng this year, says the Consumer Goods Council of SA. The organisation estimates the robberies have cost retailers about R70m.

"The robberies are a serious concern, and we have definitely seen an upsurge in the past three months," says Michael Broughton of the council.

Clothing, furniture and grocery stores in malls have been hit, as well as more traditional targets such as jewellery stores and banks.

Last Sunday the Pick ’n Pay at Johannesburg’s Rosebank Mall was attacked by a gang of 11 robbers armed with AK47 assault rifles. A police reservist confronted the robbers and was killed in a shootout.

The incident occurred less than a month after an attempted robbery at a bank in the mall also resulted in a shootout which left a security guard dead.

Malls and casinos are considered to be soft targets as cash is readily available and they are difficult to protect against armed robbers.

"We train security personnel not to confront robbers, as the last thing we want in a store is a shootout.

"We prefer to focus on crime prevention strategies and encourage store managers and owners take money out of the equation," Broughton says.

The Consumer Goods Council of SA says police are working with mall managements to initiate proactive policing and establish forums to help prevent attacks.

Pieter Prinsloo, MD of Hyprop Investments, which owns malls including the Rosebank Mall, Hyde Park and Canal Walk in Cape Town, says that such incidents are difficult to combat without police help.

He says they are working closely with the police and the Rosebank Management District to improve the mall’s security. They are also helping tenants make their cash management more secure.

"We are pushing to get more police and metro police to be visible at the mall and around the area," Prinsloo says.

Centre manager for Sandton City Gary Vipond says he does not agree shopping centres are soft targets.

"We can handle 99% of incidents that occur within the mall, but when you have 10 people armed with automatic rifles attacking one of your stores, this is difficult to prevent," Vipond says.

Business Against Crime CEO Kenny Fihla says there needs to be better co-ordination and communication between retailers and the police.

"Retailers should co-ordinate themselves to exchange information regarding any suspicious behaviour as this will heighten awareness," he says.

Fihla says retailers must pay more attention to the handling of cash and the screening of their employees.

Broughton says the evidence collected so far after the Rosebank heists shows the attacks are well planned. "The robbers are definitely organised during the event as they know where the cash office is — they have done a reconnaissance," he says.

Footage of the criminals captured on Pick ’n Pay’s surveillance system before the robbery showed them placing muti on shelves, apparently to protect themselves while committing the crime, Broughton says.

Malls are increasing security in the run-up to the festive shopping season. "Prevention efforts planned for the Christmas shopping season include increased visibility, patrols and contact with store managers," Broughton says.

Vipond says Sandton City has four armed response vehicles patrolling outside the centre, security personnel are being retrained and centre intelligence is assessing possible threats.

Broughton says that police have geared up their response to incidents.

Publisher: Business Day
Source: Business Day

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