The Western Cape’s suspected gang “high-flyers” are under daily surveillance by police as part of a major plan to compile iron-clad cases against them, says one of the province’s top policemen.
Major-General Robbie Roberts, head of the Nyanga, Hanover Park, Manenberg, Gugulethu and Athlone policing areas, which are plagued by drugs and gangsterism, said he was compiling a list of high-flyers who had been arrested and charged but whose cases had been struck from the court roll because of incomplete dockets.
The biggest problem, Roberts said, was outstanding forensic lab reports.
Since his appointment in March, he had been concerned about the high number of cases withdrawn against suspected high-flyers. He had compiled profiles of them and was monitoring their movements daily.
Roberts could not say how many names had been gathered in each area.
A detective co-ordinator based in Roberts’s office has been tasked with sifting through all the court cases of known gang leaders that have been struck from the roll.
If it is found that the reason is outstanding reports or statements, Roberts orders the file sent back to the specific police station.
The investigating officer then has to ensure outstanding documents are added before the case goes back on the roll.
“The aim is to secure a conviction,” Roberts said. Once a high-flyer was convicted, it would be much easier to oppose bail in future, he explained.
He added that criminals were being “recycled” as they landed up in court, ending up on the streets soon afterwards.
Roberts also warned that suspects who had strict bail conditions would be monitored closely, and said the minute they stepped out of line he would ensure they were re-arrested.
But leading criminologist Irvin Kinnes has warned that police and politicians were misguided in focusing on gangsters.
In a letter to the Cape Argus, Kinnes said a different approach was needed.
“If we are to beat the gangs, then provincial and local government should not focus their attention on gangs. Rather, they and the community leaders should create an alternative developmental pole in the community where young people can gravitate to.
“The more we focus our attention on gangsters, the more power they acquire. It’s time to cut their power through building community and youth development schemes, education and training scholarships and job creation opportunities. This is a way of fighting gangs without having to put people’s lives at risk.”
Roberts’s strategy is similar to a multisectoral initiative by provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer.
Late last year, Lamoer picked a group of investigators from various police stations to fight the gang problem. Detectives revisited gang-related cases, including unsolved crimes.
At the time Lamoer stressed that the move was not part of re-introducing any specialised units.
He said that whatever was done at cluster level had the “full blessing” of provincial management.
He added that there was no one-off operation focused on gangsters, but rather it was an ongoing process.
Lamoer said there was no “task team” and that addressing the gang and drug problem was only one of the detectives’ many responsibilities.
Meanwhile, residents remain outraged that known gangsters and drug dealers are back on the streets days after their arrest.
They expressed their anger again in Hanover Park recently when Community Safety MEC Dan Plato walked through the area.
Provincial Community Policing Forum board spokesman Fasal Abrams said the justice system had failed communities.
“Serious offenders and these high-flyers must remain in prison. They don’t have the right to come out and wreak havoc in our communities,” Abrams said.
Gang violence recently claimed the lives of four people in Kalksteenfontein and one in Hanover Park.
Kinnes said a lack of tangible statistics from police would make combating gangsters much more difficult.
“If gangs are so dangerous, please tell us exactly what percentage of crime the gangs on the Cape Flats are responsible for? If we cannot answer that question how can we be designing strategies to combat gangs? We need to know, and know exactly, what percentage of crime gangs are responsible for before we design strategies that pretend to deal with the problem.”
In the most recent reported incident of gang violence, police said one man had been shot dead and another shot and wounded in the neck in Hanover Park by a group of armed men.
Provincial police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said the shootings had occurred yesterday morning when the two men were walking in the area.
“Unidentified males walked up to them and shot at them. After the shooting they ran to a waiting white Nissan Sentra and tried to escape, but a police patrol vehicle gave chase and five men were arrested,” Van Wyk said.
He said no firearms had been found in the possession of the suspects.
“They will appear in the Athlone Magistrate’s Court once they have been charged. They are currently in custody,” he said.