Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis Allen: Extra cops needed to tackle burglars

South African police have been unable to locate any of the four thieves who burgled the Camps Bay cottage rented by Heather du Plessis-Allan and her husband Barry Soper a month ago. Photo / Supplied
South African police have been unable to locate any of the four thieves who burgled the Camps Bay cottage rented by Heather du Plessis-Allan and her husband Barry Soper a month ago. Photo / Supplied

Right from the start, you know the burglary will never get solved. It dawns on you while you're waiting for the police to arrive after that first panicked call. You wait half an hour. An hour. Then you give up.

They never show up.

That's what happened the night my husband and I were burgled while holidaying in Cape Town over the Christmas break, writes Heather du Plessis Allen.

When we traipse on down to the police station the next day, there's no record of the phone call we'd made at 10.30 the night before. The constable behind the counter says someone probably wrote it on a bit of paper but no one files the paper.

Still, we need a police report for insurance, so we open a new case.

Two people and two insurance claims, so the constable gives us two forms to fill out.

But only one pen. I ask for another pen. No, she says, there's only one pen.

Is it possible that, in an entire police station, there's only one pen? I'm assured it's possible. They pay our salaries, says the constable, we have to buy our own pens.

That's another hint this thing's going nowhere. If you can't find a pen, you probably can't find my wallet.

We fill out the forms and end up with a small stack of documents. Any chance we could take copies of the paperwork for our insurance claims? No, says the constable. There's no photocopier. Even if there was, she adds, there's no paper.

Fortunately, the constable hand writes our case number on the bottom corner of an A4 piece of paper and tears off a cellphone-sized square for us to take back to our insurance companies who, fingers-crossed, have seen all this before.

We probably wasted our time and the time of the security manager at our resort by asking for the CCTV footage of the burglars climbing the electric fence and, four minutes later, leaving with our computers and clothing.

The detective at the police station wants to know if it's really worth watching the DVD we hand him. When we tell him there are full face shots of all four crooks, he agrees to watch it. But only next week. There's no internet access at the weekend, he says.

The police fingerprinting team does show up. Eventually. But, it's just as we're leaving the resort. That's 36 hours, a dozen kitchen-bench wipes and one big pack up after the burglars touched anything inside the place.

A month on, no one has been caught.

They say burglary is one of the most traumatising non-violent crimes you can experience - partly because of the invasion of private space and partly because it almost always remains unsolved.

You torture yourself with questions. Are the burglars people you know? Are the housekeepers involved? How long were they watching you? Are they still nearby?

To be fair to the South African Police Service, burglaries are regarded as a low-priority crime around the world. In 2015 in New Zealand, 164 burglaries went unsolved on a daily basis. That's about nine out of 10 burglaries and it's far too many.

What we need is more investigating police officers so they have the time to crack these cases. Which is why, even if it's a cynical vote-winning move, it's still a welcome one that the National and Labour parties are both promising to deliver close to 1000 new police officers.

Until those extra cops hit the beat, at least the ones we already have possess multiple pens, photocopiers and internet access.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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