Smash and grabs are a crime of opportunity, not often planned to a great degree of detail according to Stan Bezuidenhout, a specialist in road traffic collision investigation and reconstruction in South Africa at IBF Investigation.
The crime is often seen to be cyclical, Bezuidenhout said, as they are brought to the front of the minds of South Africans who become more or less complacent over the course of the year.
The kind of criminal that fits this demographic is looking for low-risk, rapid returns, he said.
“They’re living by the direct income derived from theft of smaller items – phones, laptops, cash.
“Because of this, they spend less time planning for a particular kind of target, the loot or the value, and more time on getting away with what they can grab.”
According to Bezuidenhout, these types of criminals typically:
- Operate in the same area.
- Travel shorter distances ‘to work’ or pick busy areas on purpose.
- Hit in an area and stay with models that work.
- Know their escape routes and have tried it – hence the propensity to remain there.
“Once the public becomes more aware, when there is an increase in law enforcement efforts or in response to violent reaction, they then tend to move,” said Bezuidenhout. “Getting arrested for other crimes also influence their movements.
“At the end of the day, you will find a natural ebb and flow as these opportunistic criminals move to other areas, react to increased awareness, or as they are arrested for other crimes,” he said.
How and when
According to Bezuidenhout, smash and grabs have the same repeatable components:
- Slow, dense or very little traffic (all affecting movement and thereby, opportunity);
- Distracted drivers (who are not vigilant);
- High income areas or high traffic volume areas;
- Unprotected vehicles (no deterrent or preventative mechanisms installed);
- Easily available loot (items on seats, etc);
- An easy escape (dense traffic).
Since smash-and-grab crimes are based largely on these components, criminals focus their efforts when people are:
- Busy (going to work, planning their day);
- Distracted (on phones or “stuck” in traffic, in “drone-mode”.);
- Alone (no one to help them look out);
- Traveling slowly or stationery.
“Since traffic patterns are affected by many dynamics and the flow cannot be predicted, the criminal needs to strike when all or most of these boxes are checked,” Bezuidenhout said.
“There is (almost) no way to predict who will travel slowly when and where, and in what state of mind they will be.”
“This makes smash-and-grab a crime of opportunity. A decision to strike is made in the moment – planning is done for no more than a minute or two in advance,” he said.
As a result, many of these crimes are ultimately somewhat preventable, Bezuidenhout said.
“We know the components of most smash—and-grab incidents to be. This is all because people are creating or contributing to the set of conditions that are conductive to this kind of crime.”
“If we know how smash-and-grab incidents happen, we should be able to predict, detect, or prevent it,” he said.