In an exclusive interview and article recently published by eNews Channel Africa it became apparent that ‘smash and grab’ crimes are trending on South Africa highways and insurance companies have a lot of claims for this particular crime. This is especially true in Gauteng where road-side crime has virtually become an organised day job for gangs of opportunistic smash-and-grab syndicates. In the interview the subject (speaking under the pseudonym ‘Skroof’) confesses that he gets up early in the morning and goes to work much like anyone else – but his ‘occupation’ is to find vulnerable motorists and pilfer their valuables.
To add to this they’re also taking place in broad daylight, often in the middle of heavy traffic when the driver has little chance of speeding off in their vehicle. It’s happening this way because criminals are planning their getaway routes well in advance and count on the driver being too shell-shocked to give chase (not that it’s necessarily advisable to do so).
What do they look for?
Unfortunately, women are considered the soft targets for this type of crime. The reason being that they believe many women react first with a sense of shock, which delays a response that could pose a threat to the smash and grabber. As the interviewee commented on, one of the most dangerous reactions from the ‘victim’ would be for them to speed off while the criminal is still half in the car. Due to the speed of their assault, however, this would require a very swift response from the driver.
Other than gender what they look for are expensive but manageable technology items such as cell phones, laptops and tablets. Beyond these high-risk items the criminals will be easily tempted by:
- House keys
- Shopping bags
Although the media and government can point out hotspots or high-risk areas for smash-and-grab crimes, the wise driver accepts that the crime can take place anywhere and is careful not to leave these items lying in easy reach.
It’s important to remember that perpetrators of the crime are only really looking for one thing and that’s a safe, quick getaway. For them this means that the driver won’t be likely to immediately speed off with them halfway in the vehicle. This puts you at risk at stop streets or in heavy traffic where you’re less manoeuvrable.
What can you do?
One of the most effective measures which can be taken is to have your windows covered in an anti-shatter film. This is simply pasted on the windows by a certified professional. The film is tinted to prevent people from seeing into the car easily and, if that’s not enough to give a criminal pause and they proceed to smash the window, the adhesive film holds the shards of glass together - preventing prying hands from reaching into the car. While these two elements are enough to make most of this type of criminal flee on the occasion that they don’t you’ll still have bought a precious minute to regain your compose and take the necessary action.
It’s also important to keep your eyes open for the types of places where you’re more likely to receive attention from smash and grabbers. This includes stop streets and, unfortunately, being stuck in heavy traffic. While there’s not a lot you can do to speed away from these areas it pays to keep your eyes open. Also bear in mind that most perpetrators operate in groups of two. The first acts as scout, walking casually by potential victims and scanning inside their cars for easily searchable valuables. If the scout spots something then he’ll give a signal out of your range of sight to his partner who’ll come, seemingly, out of nowhere to smash your window.
Finally, you can watch out for people patrolling up and down the sides of danger area roads while wearing long-sleeved clothing (especially useful on days where it seems too warm for this). Smash and grabbers need to protect their forearms from the shattered glass as they force their hands past and through the jagged edges.
No matter where your travels take you, remember to stay alert, be prepared and get insured.