Large public venues like shopping centres and casino complexes are increasingly being targeted by criminal elements, with both Greenacres and the Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth having recently been the scene of drama and panic.
A 66-year-old man was shot dead after five armed men robbed Fischer’s at Greenacres at the end of July. All this innocent pensioner did to receive his death sentence was resist the robbers when they tried to take his bakkie so they could escape.
U Save Shoprite in Jeffreys Bay was also the scene of a hostage drama around that time, while terrified visitors to the Boardwalk witnessed a suspected gang-related shooting in the complex’s parking lot just two weeks ago.
The list goes on and it is no surprise that shoppers and the public are jittery.
Take this past weekend’s comedy of errors that began with the triggering of a fire alarm by a prankster and then quickly escalated into widespread panic and mayhem at Greenacres.
It is inevitable that places where crowds gather and money is being spent will be targeted by robbers and thieves. Shopping centres in our city and elsewhere face the same dilemma.
Arming their security personnel with guns is not an option since a very real risk exists that criminals will target them to gain those very weapons.
At the same time you cannot expect a security guard to fight off a gun-toting robber when only carrying a baton.
Many security guards earn a pittance and feel it is simply not worth facing injury or death to apprehend a robber.
Some centres in the larger metros like Johannesburg are now using facial and licence plate recognition services in a bid to reduce crime on their premises. But such services are extremely costly and may not yet be an option for the Eastern Cape.
All that can be done, really, is for centre management to make sure their safety personnel have all the training they can get in order to be fully prepared for any crisis, whether of a criminal nature or simply a false alarm.
We are also now in an age of hyper-vigilance. Shoppers, too, have to keep their wits about them and be aware of what is going on around them at all times.