Rudolph Zinn Edit

You Are Not Safe" by Graeme Hoskin, Pretoria News, October 01 2009

No one is safe. Not even in your home, let alone on the street or in a shopping centre. No matter how much money is spent on securing homes, malls and neighbourhoods, criminals will continue to kill and maim - unless you take responsibility for your own safety.

This was the message from the country's top criminologists as another three Pretoria families were ripped apart last weekend by violent criminals hellbent on wreaking destruction.

With hijackers and house robbers committing an average of 105 offences before they are caught for the first time, criminals, according to Unisa criminologist Rudolph Zinn, are becoming more and more daring and violent.

"The police's poor record at crime prevention added to a conviction rate of between 7 and 11 percent for serious and violent offenders, and a general lack of vigilance among South Africans is what drives the country's crime rate.

"This can be seen by the sheer number of crimes occurring every year which are constantly on the increase, despite the increasing number of people joining the police service," Zinn said.

Nearly 2.1-million serious crimes were reported to police in South Africa in the 2008/2009 financial year.

Of these, 18 148 were murder cases and 18 438 house robberies. Business robberies increased by 41.1 percent to 13 920, while house robberies increased by 27 percent. Hijackings increased by 5 percent to 14 915.

"The South African Law Commission last year revealed that the conviction rate for serious and violent crimes was between 7 percent and 11 percent, which means that these criminals are repeatedly getting away with their actions," Zinn said.

"International studies show that the longer criminals get away with committing crimes the more violent they become, which is exactly what we are seeing in South Africa, with the average hijacker and house robber committing more than 100 offences before they are caught," he said.

Zinn said this was exactly where the country's policing problem lay.

"Because police are not able to collect enough evidence properly to trace the offender and to get court convictions, offenders repeatedly get away with their crimes," he said.

In order for people to be safer they had to undergo an adjustment in attitude. "People need to know that they are never 100 percent safe. Once they know this, they can start taking steps to make themselves safer, and this is where vigilance becomes important.

"In interviews I conducted with convicted hijackers they said they often aborted their attacks the moment people noticed them, while house robbers said they specifically targeted security estates because they knew residents were lax about their security, leaving their doors and windows open.

"They know that these residents will not be suspicious of them walking around the estates because they assume that they had been cleared by the estate's security guards, when in fact they had not," Zinn said.

"You can't predict where the next attack is going to be, but you can do a lot not to become a victim by being vigilant," he said.

"People need to take their security seriously and listen to warnings issued by police, community policing forums and neighbourhood watches."

"What we often see with attacks such as house robberies and hijackings is that people become lax around their routines." Zinn added.

"They don't change their routes or times they go to and from home and often they keep their same routines even after they have been attacked, making themselves a target all over again," he said.

Pretoria University criminologist Dr Christiaan Bezuidenhout said it was a myth to believe one was 100 percent secure.

"By putting up high fences and having armed response guards one is creating a false sense of security.

"The only way all South Africans are going to be secure is through vigilance. We have to stop our 'Harry-casual' attitude and belief that because we have street committees, community policing forums and a police service we are safe.

"Crime is occurring in South Africa because we have motivated offenders, suitable victims and a lack of visible policing.

"These three things, which allow crime to thrive, will not exist if we are vigilant and proactive," he said.

Bezuidenhout said the government's recent change in attitude towards crime had to be bought into by all South Africans.

"The police cannot operate without intelligence, which is why we need to be their eyes and ears. It is a 50-50 partnership with communities needing to play their part, especially as criminals are born and created in our communities.

"There are many people who are aware of criminals and their activities, but do not become involved in the fight against crime because they are afraid, which is ridiculous.

"Anonymous tip-offs help to save lives," he said.

Unisa criminologist Professor Anthony Minnaar said that no matter what security measures were in place, a determined criminal would get through them.

"While we can delay and detect criminals with security systems, the ultimate answer to security and personal safety is vigilance.

"People need to be aware of their environment and surroundings," he said.

"Attacks often occur because of human error. If you do not lock your doors and put your alarm on at night your security measures are useless and will fail to keep you safe," he said.

Minnaar said community safety had to be looked at "holistically".

"All neighbourhood watches fail if they do not co-operate with the police, yet the police have to play their part by responding to and investigating crime properly," he said.

This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on October 01, 2009

From Constantia Hills Neighbourhood Watch

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