More than 20, 000 armed robberies. Over 70, 000 burglaries. And our economy faces violent attacks each day – 55 brazen armed robbery attacks, anything from 10 – 15 armed men with automatic weapons, and about 195 burglaries, every day – all in pursuit of large volumes of cash. When will government and law enforcement consider prioritising retail cash crime?
In September every year, South Africans brace themselves for the annual crime statistics, which may only be figures, but they give us a very real sense of what law enforcement agencies and ordinary civilians are up against. It’s a thought-provoking occasion that affords an opportunity to analyse trends and work out how to reduce risks and the prevalence of retail cash crime and the need to have this crime prioritised.
Cash Connect, South Africa’s leading provider of automated cash management and payment solutions for the retail sector, used the opportunity to host a panel of experts to discuss retail cash crime.
Although showing a marginal downward trend, retail cash crime remains high on the criminal agenda within more than 75 000 non-residential burglaries reported in the past year and 20 000 armed robberies.
Comparing the first 8 months of 2018 to the same period last year, joint CEO of Cash Connect, Richard Phillips, says there has been a 7% increase in armed robberies against the retail sector specifically and mostly for cash. 78% of the victims are SMME’s, large retailers and fuel stations and the target is almost always cash.
Cash Connect’s retail cash management solution “puts the bank in the store” and provides a proven deterrent to cash crime in the retail space, transfers the risk away from the retailer and introduces business efficiencies.
“In the past year attacks against our customers were contained below 2% of our national base and 94% of bombing attacks were successfully defended”
“The stats released last week by Police Minister Bheki Cele showed clear similarities between CIT robberies and retail cash crime, supporting the cash industry’s belief that the syndicates move from one target to the other… they are after cash. These are the same bandits, each with defined roles - from controlling customers and staff, to efficiently getting to the back of the store, finding the cash and getting out in less than 3 minutes”.
In May, a similar Cash Connect think tank focused on cash-in-transit robberies, up from 152 last year to 238 this year, an increase of 57 per cent.
While there has been progress in bringing down cash robberies; with the festive season just months away, the police are bracing themselves as more and more cash goes into circulation.
Participants at today’s solution-driven event included the Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane; the SAPS Acting Divisional Commissioner for Visible Policing, Lt-General Sharon Jephta; Abraham Nelson from the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, which represents the interests of manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers; anti-crime activist, Yusuf Abramjee and Reggie Sibiya of the Fuel Retailer Association.
Sibiya said he didn’t think there was a service station in the country that hadn’t been hit.
“They go for the ATM, they go for the shop, and they go for the tills; while people are waiting to fill up with petrol. Sometimes they even hijack customers”.
Abraham Nelson, who once worked for SAPS Crime Intelligence and is now head of CGCSA’s Crime Risk Initiative, calls it a ‘total onslaught’.
“And the increase in violence is a problem. During protests stores get looted… There were 489 robberies at Shoprite over the past year… business needs to invest in the fight against crime”, to quote the Police Minister.
“While a company like Cash Connect has technology – with robust cash vaults that can deter crime in the retail sector – not all retailers take necessary precautions to protect their cash”, says General Jephta. “Police often arrive at a crime scene to find CCTV technology that could help them identifying criminals, not working”.
“Or the cameras are focused on the tills, to prevent cashiers from stealing. Often staff members are also unable to assist in giving us coherent information like a good description of criminals. Nor do they know how to behave at a crime scene. In our country, it’s as important as fire drill. Get your staff trained in robbery drill and crime scene management – it’s an unfortunate reality”.
MEC Nkosi-Malobane, who admits that Gauteng’s crime rate keeps her awake at night, says employees are akin to intelligence agents.
“Your own staff should be your eyes and ears, you need to profile them and do proper vetting. Invest in intelligence. Sixty per cent of criminals come from within. Let us work together to prevent crime before it happens. We don’t want to always be doing reactive policing”.
General Jephta says where there is investment by retailers in measures to deter criminals; there’s usually a reduction in crime.
“Even getting police involved in the design of new shopping centres and retail parks could help make access much harder for criminals. Cash shouldn’t be delivered openly, there needs to be a secure area. You have to limit opportunities for criminals. Don’t cash up at the same time every night, don’t keep cash in the till all day. Don’t establish a routine that can be passed onto criminals”.
Phillips adds that retailers should strongly consider a robust cash vault and cash management solution which can act as an effective deterrent for cash crime.
Abraham Nelson says some shopping centres – have developed sophisticated techniques to manage cash in house.
“It’s deposited into a central vault and goes back into the business, without having to leave the premises. A fully automated system considerably reduces crime”.
But Reggie Sibiya says the cash economy is here to stay.
“In countries like the UK people are moving back to cash. So, let’s find ways to safeguard it”.
There are, says Richard Phillips, plenty of small things retailers can do to improve safety, without spending huge amounts of money.
“A simple approach can make a massive difference. Maintain and keep alarm systems fully functional; make sure your closed-circuit TV recorder isn’t in an obvious place where the criminal can find it… these are professionals, they know what they are doing. It’s illogical not to safeguard footage that could capture criminals. We have the technology, let’s use it”.
Responding to a call by Reggie Sibiya for an integrated system connected to a central crime hub, so alerting the right people as soon as a crime is committed, General Jephta says recent travels abroad have given the police a lot of information about how to streamline operations. She calls it the ‘safer city’ concept which they are planning to introduce in Gauteng and with which they hope to integrate all information under ‘one umbrella’.
“The safer city program will invest more in technology and community intelligence”.
Yusuf Abramjee, a social cohesion advocate, and among the brains behind Crime Line, said crime statistics needs be made available quarterly so that we become aware of trends while they are happening.
“If we know where crime is happening when it is happening, it will allow the business community to mobilise. We need robust solutions to a national crime emergency. Let’s have another one of these crime strategy sessions before the festive season – the major shopping period of the criminal.”
After all, crime does a lot more than traumatise survivors – it acts like a tax on the entire economy and takes away from those who need it most.