Police are battling with a group of about 25 street children who they say are responsible for some of the crime in the city centre.
The latest incident took place on Monday last week, on the last day of the school holiday, when Cape Town Central Improvement District (CCID) guards caught two 12-year-old boys after they allegedly grabbed a chain from an elderly woman’s neck.
The situation quickly took a turn for the worse when the guard was allegedly seen smacking one of the children before apprehending them.
The children sat on the pavement at St George’s Mall, one in tears, guarded by at least nine CCID officers.
Nearby, a small crowd shouted for the guards to release the children as the chain had been found.
One witness said she ran after the CCID guards and children after she saw the public safety officer smack the child.
“It doesn’t matter what happened. They have no right to hit the child. I ran after them and I saw him give the child a smack. It’s not right.”
Another man said the guard hit the child like they would hit a grown man.
“The children are just hungry. They are now telling the children they must say they didn’t hit them.”
The CapeTowner spoke to the two boys, who admitted they had taken the train from Bishop Lavis to the city centre station to come and steal chains.
They said they were both 12 years old, and that their parents had no idea they had travelled to the CBD.
They also indicated that they lived in a poor community and had problems at home, although it was unclear what exactly those problems were.
CCID security manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said the incident was being investigated, and that they would be taking the appropriate action, depending on the outcome.
He said the victim of the
mugging was traumatised.
“The two boys who were apprehended had just ripped a chain off the neck of an elderly lady. The force of the removal was such that the victim sustained substantial physical trauma to her neck but has also had to undergo psychological trauma as she went into shock following the incident.”
And although the two boys had been caught committing a crime, Mr Hendricks said the CCID had strict policies around the use of force, which must be in proportion to the force being exerted or required to bring the situation under control.
“Use of force is an actual module within the CCID training manual. Any member found transgressing this rule, will face disciplinary action which could lead to dismissal depending on the severity of the case. This also gets drilled into the team at almost every shift parade to emphasise the importance of restraint being exercised. Our procedures are to apprehend, detain using minimum force and deliver suspects to the police within the shortest space of time. We then also assist the victims themselves as far as they will allow us to do so.”
He said if the guards are found to have hit one of the boys, they could face a final written warning or dismissal in an official enquiry depending on the severity of the case. Asked why nine guards were standing on the scene at the time the children were apprehended, Mr Hendricks said: “The two suspects were extremely rowdy and aggressive in being apprehended – the apprehension having occurred following an extremely violent attack on an elderly person.
“It has been our experience that many suspects will use this behaviour to attract attention and derive sympathy when a crowd forms. The CCID members are there to secure the scene while awaiting SAPS. It is common practice that when an incident of this nature is reported, for example a robbery on a member of the public, whichever officers are in the area will respond to assist.”
The woman had opened a case and the two boys were arrested.
Cape Town Central police’s head of violent crimes, Captain Wynand Swart said that although these two boys were first-time offenders, they have a major problem with a group of children and young adults, from Clark Estate, in Elsies River, who come to the city centre to commit crime. He said the two boys who were arrested that day and were released into the care of their parents following the court appearance the next day.
“The parents are both working, and the boys are still in school. They come from good homes in Clark Estate. The father said he works night shift and sees the groups of children walking to the station in the mornings to come to the city centre. He said the parents of the boys were willing to cooperate with the police in the investigation. “The boys see the others wearing nice sneakers and clothing and they show them how to get it – come to the city centre and snatch the chain.” He said there used to be about three boys but the numbers have increased to about 30 of them.
“We’ve got a file on each of the children and how many times they have been arrested. Some of them come from good homes, and the court seems to make the decision that the children must be released into the care of their parents.
“It’s a vicious cycle – it happens again and again. Its a real issue for us.”
He said the modus operandi used by the children is to beg and get close enough to the person to snatch the chain.
Asked about the CCID guards who allegedly hit the child, Captain Swart said: “I don’t know about this, but one thing I do know if is it wasn’t for the CCID, this problem with the children would be out of control. All the guards know exactly who they are and make it known that they are being watched.”