Tourist threats

A CCID guard patrolling.

Security authorities working in the CBD have raised concerns about tourist safety after two incidents in which visitors were targeted in one week.

The concerns were raised at the community police forum (CPF) meeting, which took place at Cape Town Central police station on Thursday April 4.

Sergeant Glen Machelm, manager for Sector 1, which includes the city centre, said they had identified a group of men, believed to be foreign nationals, who targeted tourists on Sundays, when the city was quiet.

He said last week, a 76-year-old man from America was standing in front of the Taj Hotel in Wale Street when a man and woman walked into him, after which he noticed his cellphone was gone.

“Luckily there were police on the scene so we managed to apprehend the pair. We are trying to address this.”

In another incident, a tourist decided to walk back to his hotel after a night out in the city. He was accosted by two men who tried to rob him at knifepoint. He fought off his attackers, who immediately fled the area.

Sergeant MacHelm said first they were looking at the group of boys from Clark Estate who wander around the city robbing people (“Tales of city’s ‘lost boys’”, CapeTowner, April 18, 2018), however, they identified another group recently.

“The group of foreign nationals are not as aggressive as the boys – they don’t put up a fight. If they didn’t get what they were intending to steal, they will leave the scene. In the case with the 76-year old man, there was no altercation.”

TheCityCentral Improvement District safety manager, Muneeb Hendricks said they were aware of most of the incidents.

He said in most instances, crime targeting tourists included ATM fraud, pickpocketing and common robbery in the form of grab-and-run incidents.

Mr Hendricks said most crimes did not involve force, but rather finesse. “Sometimes criminals rely on crowds, and events or times when people are in a festive mood and have been consuming alcohol, to get close to unsuspecting tourists or visitors to the CBD. They then pickpocket them. Cellphones are the most sought-after items.”

“Grab and run mostly involves cellphones and gold jewellery, mainly necklaces. The criminals watch tourists, who are often distracted by their cellphones and do not realise they are being observed. Their phones are grabbed and the suspect flees the scene, leaving behind a shocked tourist.”

With regard to ATM fraud, he said criminals convinced tourists to accompany them to ATMs. They wear “security” bibs and caps, and inform tourists that they need a permit to walk where they are walking due to a film shoot or protest.

They tell the tourists that the required permit is free of charge and can be obtained at the nearest ATM, to which the tourists are duly led. At the ATM, they surround the tourist, and distract the person so that they can view the PIN being used and then steal the card.

They then convince the tourist that the machine has retained the card after which they withdraw huge sums of cash at the next available ATM.

They usually operate in groups of up to seven people.

Mr Hendricks said the CCID hasd embarked on numerous projects to highlight safety issues in the CBD.

“We deploy ambassadors at ATMs; conduct safety awareness campaigns in pertinent areas, and run a ‘Stash it, Don’t flash it’ campaign aimed at educating people on how not to become victims of crime, especially theft from motor vehicles.”

According to the CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, visitor safety is one of their biggest barriers to growing tourism in Cape Town. “Since tourism is one of few sectors in which economic growth and an increase in jobs is currently possible, we cannot allow the potential for growth to harmed by visitor safety issues.

“It is with this in mind that the City and Cape Town Tourism recently brought in the safety ambassador programme” (“Ambassadors applauded”, CapeTowner, February 7).

Mr Duminy said all tourism hot spots in the world were vulnerable to muggers and pick-pockets, and Cape Town also had a minority of unscrupulous criminals who targeted visitors in what were generally isolated incidents.

“We urge visitors to be aware of their surroundings and to conceal expensive possessions and jewellery. Further guidelines would be to explore with a local guide and to use Cape Town Tourism member services. We also encourage locals to assist visitors at all times.”

He said members of Cape Town Tourism were urged to advise and educate their guests about the safety issues facing tourists. “So too the staff of the Cape Town Tourism Visitor Centres. We also provide tourists at our visitor centres with pamphlets offering tips about safety, and we have an extensive list of safety tips on our website.”

CPF chairman Marc Truss urged the community and police officers to nominate people who did good in the community, so that the CPF could thank them for their hard work by providing them with a shopping voucher worth R500.

He said there had been no nominations since last year. “We have two vouchers for police officer of the month, and we have two vouchers for the public. It could be anyone in the community who went the extra mile, and the vouchers, funded by the CPF, is just to say thank you.”

Anyone who would like to nominate a community member or a police officer can email with a short description of why the person was nominated.

Cape Town Central police is still number one in the country for theft out of motor vehicle, and the police will now be looking at new strategies to curb this.

At the meeting, police reported that theft out of motor vehicle was a priority crime throughout the Cape Town Central police precinct, followed by robbery.

Sergeant Machelm said the most problematic streets were Strand, Long, Darling and Riebeek streets. “We have had a number of events last week, so that affected our crime as there were many people in the city centre. We have made several arrests for robbery and possession of dangerous weapons.

Anthony Rees, chairman of the Gardens Neighbourhood Watch, said there had also been an increase in car break-ins near Gardens centre during lunch time. He said people should take extra precaution to make sure their cars were locked and that nothing was left in the car when they parked it.

Constable Louis Texeira, sector manager for sector 3, which includes a portion of the city, Gardens and Bo-Kaap, said in most theft cases, there was no sign of forced entry, so he believed that car-jamming devices were being used to break into cars.

He said last week, a number of incidents took place along Kloof, Orange and De Waal streets.

Sergeant Machelm said robberies were rife in Keizersgracht, Canterbury and Sir Lowry streets.

He said commuters using the MyCiTi service in the east part of the city were targeted, and it was suspected that the perpetrators were living among the homeless in the open fields in District 6.

The head of visible policing, Colonel Andre Coetzee, said police would hold strategic work sessions to come up with new ideas on how to combat theft out of motor vehicles.

“We also want to have more imbizos so that we can connect with the community, and we will welcome any ideas or suggested interventions that will help us fight crime.”

He said over the past weekend, 31 incidents of theft out of motor vehicle was recorded, 25 of which were isolated incidents. Items that were stolen were mostly clothing and laptops. “We have had a decrease, but it needs to go down much more.”

Mr Truss said Cape Town Central would probably remain number 1 in the country for theft out of motor vehicle, and police would have to do a full analysis to determine crime patterns and what can be done to address the issue. He urged the community to be vigilant, to check if their cars are locked and not to leave any belongings in their vehicles.

Cape Town Central police’s head of violent crimes, Captain Wynand Swart said during the last financial year spanning from March 31 2018 until April 1 2019, more than 2000 thefts of motor vehicles case were reported. Only 77 arrests were made in connection with those cases, and only 193 cars were checked for fingerprints.

Captain Swart said Cape Town Central police has now extended its crime office so that there were more detectives on call 24/7. “We want to make sure that every complainant is interviewed by a detective before he or she leaves the station, and that detectives are available to take them to the scene. This is to prevent people from opening false cases, and also to give us a better chance of catching the suspects.”

Neighbourhood watches and security authorities were warned not to send pictures of suspected criminals who were arrested, to victims of the crime.

Captain Swart said while he knew the community meant well, when a picture of the criminal was sent to the victim, the case was being jeopardised.

“We have to respect the person’s right to innocence until proven guilty. Also, when a complainant is traumatised, they are not in a position to make a call if they are shown a picture of the suspect.

“The police will investigate and make provision for an ID parade when the time is right. If the photo was shown to the victim before the case goes to court, it is difficult to change a magistrate’s mind as to how the evidence was obtained, and the case will be kicked out.”

He said it was okay to send it to security authorities so that they could be alerted, however, showing the suspected criminal to the public was not a good idea. See page 3.