Daily Maverick: SAPS must get its act together: Increase in carjackings damages the economy

Read the Daily Maverick article............click logo below.

For a more detailed exposé on the subject of carjacking in South Africa, please read the article below……….

Carjacking one of the most organized crimes in South Africa

Carjacking has a significant impact on foreigner’s perspectives of South Africa from a tourism and investment perspective and as a consequence, on our economy. Carjacking in South Africa have become one of the most discussed crimes in foreign media and is one of the most feared crimes in our country. In 2019/2020 we had the highest annual number of carjackings of 18 162, which is a 13.3% increase from the previous year. Without the lockdowns from COVID-19, it is highly likely that this crime would have exceeded 19 000 in this year. This makes carjacking a crime that has to be dealt with by the government, South African Police Service (SAPS) and the citizens of our country.

Carjacking in simple terms is the forceful theft of a motor vehicle, including light commercial vehicles or “bakkies” (ie single and double cabs, 2 x 4 and 4 x 4 light commercial vehicles). It is one of the most organized crimes being committed in South Africa that involves a whole range of players from the runners, intermediate handlers to the head of crime syndicates. This crime would be significantly reduced without the involvement of corrupt officials in the police, licensing offices and in border control.

The target of carjacking has changed from the initial years where this particular crime became so prominent. In 2004/05 it was mostly sedans that were being carjacked in the more affluent areas of Gauteng. This crime has shifted towards the townships and the theft of “bakkies” and taxis and remains a crime where the use of firearms is largely always present. In 2006/2007 there were only four townships that had significant numbers of carjackings but now there are 19 township police stations that are in the top 30 in South Africa. Motor vehicles are carjacked for three main reasons:

  1. cloning (changing the registration details of the stolen vehicle to one which has been written off or scrapped or is still in operation),
  2. exporting across our borders
  3. chopping up for spare parts

Carjacking increased by 13.3% and at the highest level ever

The trend in recent years has seen an increase in the number of carjackings. Between the years 2012/13 to 2016/17 there was an average annual increase of 12.2% in the numbers of this crime. In fact, there has been an increase in many other crimes during this period. In the years 2017/18 to 2018/19 there was a marginal decrease of between 1.8 - 2.3%. In the years 2004/05 and 2009/10 to 2011/2012, saw the greatest decreases in the number of carjackings of between 7 - 23%. It is believed that the reasons for these decreases can be attributed to clear targets being set for the SAPS, especially around the World Cup, having visible policing based on crime pattern analysis and the focus by SAPS crime intelligence on the crime syndicates. The fact that the number of carjackings has begun to increase again, is because intelligence based visible policing is low and there is a significant amount of infighting within the SAPS.

Using AfricaScope’s  SA Crime Profile viewer, the high priority police stations can be identified in different administrative levels for carjacking, from national, provincial to municipal districts. The viewer can be used to show the number of crimes of any type at a police station level. The national picture shows that carjacking predominates in the Gauteng province, the metropolitan areas and larger towns. With 4 of the top 10 carjacking police stations in Gauteng, it has the highest number of carjackings of the nine provinces in South Africa.

The stations in Gauteng that have the highest number of carjackings in 2019/20 are Mamelodi East (230), Booysens (206), Moroka (175) and Honeydew (173). The Western Cape province has five stations in the top ten with Nyanga (429) having the highest number nationally, Philippi East (214), Harare (187), Khayelitsha (181) and Gugulethu (172). Further emphasizing that the trend in carjacking has moved largely from high income areas to the townships where crime is intensifying and there are strong associations with many other crimes being committed in these police stations.

Booysens/Moffatview have highest number of carjackings in SA in 2019/20

It is interesting to note, that where Booysens police station was historically in the top position for at least 10 years in terms of the number of carjackings, it has now dropped to No. 4 position in the country. A key reason for this is that the Moffatview police station was separated from Booysens but if you add the number of carjackings for these two police stations in 2019/20, it is still the highest in the country. One must pose the question after all these years, how is it possible? A simple answer might be that the SAPS in these two police stations need to be held accountable to reduce the number of carjackings in their area. However, an approach needs to be developed by the SAPS as an organization that the police can use to deal with this crime in these two police stations.

By looking at the environmental characteristics of these police stations one can see that Booysens, Moffettview as well as Nyanga have similar characteristics in that they have significant road infrastructure passing through them or on their periphery. When it comes to Booysens and Moffettview police stations they link residential areas to the south with industrial and commercial areas in Johannesburg. Nyanga is remarkably similar to these two police stations with high levels of accessibility and it being one of the major transport hubs in Cape Town. This high level of accessibility was one of the factors why Nyanga had such a high level of COVID-19 cases during Wave 1 of the pandemic. The N4 national road running past Mamelodi East police station is another reason it has become a carjacking hotspot in Gauteng. These are critical factors to take into consideration in addressing carjacking in these high priority police stations.

Understanding crime pattern theory can help to reduce carjacking

If one looks at crime pattern theory it helps to understand why crimes occur in particular places and at particular times. The theory emphasizes there are three components that must be considered: 1) nodes, 2) paths and 3) edges. Nodes are the places where criminals and victims travel to and from (e.g. home, school, work and to recreate). Paths are the routes that people travel along every day when moving between the nodes. The edges are the “mindset” areas (ie the known geographic area within which criminals and victims travel regularly). It is in these “mindset” areas where the criminal and victims’ encounter one another and a crime can be committed.

A further criminological theory that must be considered is the routine activity theory. This theory indicates that for a crime to occur one requires three elements:  1) a likely offender 2) a suitable target 3) the absence of a capable guardian. Although the first two elements are easy to understand, a guardian is anyone that can prevent a crime from occurring, including the police, security guards and citizens themselves. The use of the crime pattern and routine activity theories needs to be understood in relation to carjacking because they provide a significant opportunity in addressing this crime.  Research has shown that  apartheid planning and segregation has impacted on the applicability of theories of crime pattern analysis in South Africa because people travel far longer distances than in most countries in the world to get from their place of residence to their place of employment.

The purpose of the SA Crime Profile viewer is firstly, to make information easily available for use by citizens and decision makers in the public and private sectors. It facilitates a conversation on crime, and more specifically carjacking, between citizens, businesses, government and security structures for a collaborative approach in addressing crime in South Africa. It provides critically important information that citizens can use to engage with Community Police Forums (CPF) to ensure a targeted approach to addressing crime in any particular police station. Secondly, the SA Crime Profile viewer allows the analysis of a particular crime in an identify police stations with the numbers of all other types of crime to see how strongly associated they are.

Geospatial information critical in developing anti-carjacking strategies

By filtering the data on carjacking in the SA Crime Profile viewer and selecting the 10 worst off police stations in the country, one sees a strong association to police stations where there are high levels of violent crimes, such as aggravated robbery, assault GBH, attempted murder, common assault and street/public robbery. These police stations with the highest levels of carjacking, also have high levels of crimes such as common robbery, drunken driving, sexual crimes and illegal possession of firearms. Interestingly, these police stations also have property related crimes, more specifically malicious damage to property and theft of motor vehicles. What is clear from the analysis of carjacking in South Africa, is that levels are intensifying in certain police stations, and these are especially in the townships. Booysens in the past and in all probability now, is an area where the sale of drugs and sex is common, which results in people being attracted to the area and providing an opportunity for a carjacking to be committed.

To be able to tackle carjacking requires geospatial information to be collected on the location of actual crimes so that the hotspot areas can be identified in any particular police station. What also needs to be understood is the ever changing modus operandi in conducting carjackings, which requires the consistent collection of intelligence. With this information, further geospatial information needs to be collected, especially considering the theories described above. This includes where the offender resided and committed the crime, the major paths/routes on which the carjacking was committed and where the victim was coming from and at what time, as well as the location of known drop off and chop shops for stolen vehicles.

Figure 1 below is an example of the type of information that needs to be collected in police stations like Booysens and Moffatview so as to be able to tackle carjacking. These two police stations have the N12/N3 national road running on its southern and eastern borders (major path/route) as well as the N17 running through the northern part of Moffatview police station. Any carjacking happening on these national roads would in most likelihood be reported to in these two police stations.

The two police stations are crisscrossed by a myriad of metropolitan and other major paths/routes. Making this area highly accessible with many entry and exit points for potential targets to access the area as well as many escape routes for carjackers. There are also many transport notes scattered throughout the two areas where one sees a significant movement of people traveling to and from their work and homes. The edges or “mindset” area may coincide with the police station boundaries for Booysens and Moffatview but it is more likely that it encompasses a much larger area, including the Johannesburg CBD, greater Soweto and Alberton.

An examination of the area shows that there are many potential suitable targets in the two police stations made up of commercial and industrial areas as well as major recreation sites, such as the FNB Stadium & Turfontein Racecourse. The residential areas forming part of Booysens and Moffatview are also densely populated. This raises the question as to whether the carjackings that are happening in these two areas are associated more with the residential population, working populations or motorist traveling along the major transport routes.

Over and above the two police stations, there are many potential guardians that are located in the area. This would include the security services linked to the many industrial and commercial areas as well as community safety structures. It is these guardians that need to be working with the CPF’s and SAPS in order to provide the necessary intelligence to the police to prevent car jackings and to apprehend the criminals. Having this geospatial information as well as information on the location of where carjacking events occurred, hijacked vehicle drop off sites and chop shops, will allow the police to develop strategies to curtail this crime in these two and other police stations.

What is also critically important is defining the level of security from private and community structures within all police station. This will enable the identification of areas within police stations where there are low levels of security, and a stronger visible presence of the SAPS is required. Using this information, strategies can be developed to bring about a systematic and sustained reduction of carjacking as well as other crimes in police stations such as Nyanga, Mamelodi East, Booysens and Moffatview.

A possible strategy is that of the “broken window” theory that contends that by dealing with crimes such as street/public, illegal drugs and sexual crimes, will ultimately bring about a reduction of other crimes such as carjacking. For this to occur requires the collection of the geospatial data at a police station level to identify hotspots and to understand the environment within which the crime is occurring. The SAPS also needs to be an effective guardian. Meaning that they must have the necessary quantity and quality of resources (ie personnel and police vehicles) and strategies to bring about a sustained reduction in carjacking.

Crime pattern analysis, visible policing  and crime reduction targets are needed to reduce carjacking

It is critical that a partnership exists between the police, the CPF, citizens and security structures in a police station so that people are informed and can take appropriate steps to keep away from hot spot areas or to take the necessary precautions. In 2004/05 and 2009/10 to 2011/12, where there were the largest decreases of up to 23% in carjackings, special initiatives were implemented by the SAPS to dismantle syndicates and arrest the top people. Crime pattern analysis and visible policing was also used at a police station level to accomplish this. The management of police stations were set targets and held accountable in  achieving them, which also helped in the reduction of carjacking and other crimes. Similar types of initiatives such as these and recommendations in this article, must be implemented by the SAPS if we are to bring about a significant reduction in carjacking and other crimes in South Africa.

Webinar video Conversations on Crime: carjacking ………click here

SA Crime Profile viewer………click here

About the Authors

Dr Chris de Kock is the former head of the Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC) of the South African Police Service (SAPS). He holds a PhD in sociology and has extensive experience as a researcher and analyst in crime and violence in South Africa. He is also a consultant to police services in other Southern African countries. As an associate of AfricaScope he works on the analysis of crime statistics and in the developing of crime profile mapping projects. Recent projects include collaborated on is the Survey on Citizen Perceptions of safety in high crime areas in Gauteng province.

Craig Schwabe is a geospatial specialist and focuses on the development of geospatial information for South Africa and Africa. As a member of the GIS Centre of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) he assisted the South African Police Service (SAPS) in mapping their police station boundaries for the first time.  As part of the AfricaScope team he has developed demographic and income data for South Africa and countries across Africa. He has been an adviser to multilateral and multinational organizations in the development and use of geospatial data in Africa. Craig has published several reports, books, chapters and scientific papers as well as presented papers at a number of national and international conferences. He has assisted the Dept of Public Service and Administration (dpsa) in South Africa in publishing guidelines for improving geographic access to government service points.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *