Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Look in the mirror before you point the finger of blame

If I hear or see one more South African moan about the ineptitude of the police in this country, I may have to fetch them a serious klop.

A few months ago a company in Cape Town hired a pair of twin brothers to work in their aluminium blind manufacturing business. The owner was a nice, compassionate sort of fellow and when the brothers were in financial need, he advanced them some money against their future wages. Shortly thereafter, one of the brothers…I’ll call him David…stole some tools and other items and was thereafter fired. What his boss failed to do, however, was report the incident to the police.

Another employer, only a few blocks away and in the same business, hired David without checking his employment references. A kind-hearted man, when he discovered that David and his brother, Tom, were homeless, he offered to help them get a small, inexpensive place to live. He paid the first month’s rent and the security deposit for a little furnished flat nearby on the promise that he would be paid back out of David’s future wages. David and Tom moved into their little flat on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, David failed to show up for work and he didn’t call in. After a few more days of absence, David’s boss became uneasy and actually called David’s former employer. It was then that he discovered that David had been fired for theft.

Three weeks passed and on a Friday morning, the owner of the furnished flat received a call from Tom. After extending his apologies, he explained that he and his brother must leave immediately for Johannesburg due to an emergency concerning their mother, and they would not be staying in the flat any longer. What, he asked, did he have to do to get the deposit refunded? She referred him to her husband, who drove over to the flat, only to find that the television, DVD player, and microwave oven were missing.

While her husband went to the police to lay a charge of theft against their former tenants, the landlady called David’s employer to ask if he had a way to contact David. The employer, Clifford, told her that David had not been to work since the day after he moved into the flat. He also said that he had contacted David’s former employer and learned about David having been fired for theft. He believed Tom still worked there, however, and he gave the landlady the name and telephone number of Tom’s employer.

The landlady regretfully informed Clifford that the security deposit he had paid on behalf of the brothers was now forfeit, and suggested that he might want to join her husband at the police station to lay an additional charge of theft. When he said he had no proof that he had paid the money to them, the landlady countered that she was a witness to the transaction and that they had bank records of the transaction.

“You must do this,” she insisted. “If you let them get away with this, more people will be victimized. If David’s former employer had reported his theft to the police, you would not be out this money now, and I would not be dealing with the theft of my property, either.” The man declined to “get any further involved.”

When she called Tom’s employer, the landlady was informed that Tom had not shown up for work for a week. She inquired about David, as this was the employer from whom David had stolen, and suggested that the man should lay a charge of theft against him that could be combined with the case that had been opened for the theft from her cottage. The man stated that he had no desire to become further involved, he just wanted to wash his hands of the matter and forget about it.

And so these two young men continue to deceive and victimize people with impunity because nobody wants to be bothered with reporting the crime to the police. Apprehension would have been dead simple had that first employer made a complaint to the police, for David went to work only a block away and his brother remained employed at the same place. It would have been a simple matter for the police to watch Tom and be lead directly to David …if only the employer had reported David’s theft to the police.

Because he could not be bothered, because that employer took no action, now Clifford…who has a family to feed, is out R5500 (in buying power, the equivalent of 55 bags of groceries). And the landlord and his wife, who make just enough money off the rental to pay the monthly bond (mortgage), must now replace a 24” TV, a DVD player, and a stainless steel microwave oven.

But the public won’t know that at least two of the victims of these brothers refused to contact the police, thereby leaving them free to victimize others. The public will simply assume that the mini-crime wave (who really believes that their crimes began with the first employer and ended with the unfortunate landlord?) is the result of the ineptitude of the police in catching them. When they are eventually caught and a list of their crimes is published, the public will see it as proof that the police are bunglers and can’t even catch a petty thief when he takes a job only a block away from the scene of one of his crimes.

So, the next time I meet up with a South African who moans about the ineptitude of his police force, I’m going to have to ask him if he has ever been victimized and, if so, did he make a report to the police. Does he know of people who have been victimized and failed to report it? And when he tries to justify his or his friend’s lack of action by saying “It wouldn’t do any good, they don’t do anything,” I will be forced to inform him that he is the reason the police don’t apprehend the criminals before they amass an impressive list of victims. He, and people like him who fail to report crimes and thereby allow criminals to move on to another and another and yet another victim, keeps the police blinded and unaware and actively prevent them from getting these people off the street.

So, the next time you are tempted to blame your police force for being soft on crime, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are doing your part to keep your community crime free. Being too lazy to report a crime cripples your police force and helps the criminals. Are you part of the solution, like this landlord, or part of the problem, like those two employers?

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