Hijackers and thieves are also heading back to work in South Africa

Statistics from the vehicle-recovery sector show that crime levels are getting back to normal as the lockdown is relaxed, says Charles Morgan, operations executive at Netstar.

As a company operating in the vehicle recovery space, Morgan said that Netstar has first-hand experience of the trends around hijackings and car theft in the country. He said that at the beginning of the lockdown, these crimes dropped to almost zero.

The findings from Netstar’s data are in line with those from vehicle-tracking company Tracker.

“Our recovery partners reported that for the first time in decades, entire days would go by without a single car being stolen in South Africa. This was unprecedented.

“The drop-off was largely because there were simply not many cars on the road. We all retreated to the safety of our homes and complexes, and heeded the government call to isolate ourselves and limit transmission of Covid-19.”

Morgan said that the economic shutdown also meant that during the traditional vehicle theft times –  11h00 till 12h00 and 18h00 till 21h00 – there was no business activity.

Gyms, restaurants, and businesses were closed, and social visits were curtailed, giving criminals no opportunities to steal vehicles.

He said that the sheer novelty of the lockdown meant for us all – including the vehicle-theft syndicates – a suspension of operations while we tried to understand exactly what was happening.

“Now that we’ve all adjusted to the new reality, our records show we are heading back towards business as usual, in the mainstream and the illicit economy,” he said.

As the lockdown progressed, Netstar’s data has shown a slow increase in the numbers of stolen and hijacked vehicles. “This may be because criminals are becoming desperate, or because they are becoming more brazen, and accustomed to lockdown conditions,” said Morgan.

“It’s also true that all of us have followed a similar trajectory in our daily behaviour. Where initially a trip to the supermarket was a rarity fraught with apprehension, now we are far more confident about leaving the house, armed with our face masks and hand sanitiser.”

Netstar said that heavier road traffic has led to levels of vehicle crime rising to approximately 60% of where they were prior to lockdown.

“The patterns that we are seeing also indicate that during the lockdown, many vehicles are not being stolen by professional syndicates, but by amateurs, often on impulse,” said Morgan.

“But as the lockdown has progressed, we have seen the established syndicates getting back into business as we’ve moved to Level 4, becoming more brazen and ambitious by the day.”

An unexpected trend picked up by Netstar was that as the lockdown was imposed, for the first time vehicle crime in Cape Town was higher than in Johannesburg. As overall crime levels have risen, though, Gauteng has reclaimed its position as the nation’s crime hotspot.

“With the country set to move to a level 3 lockdown, trends indicate that this would see vehicle crime levels returning to what they were before the lockdown,” said Morgan.

Read: Criminals ‘back to work’ as theft and hijacking returns to pre-lockdown levels in South Africa

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Hijackers and thieves are also heading back to work in South Africa