How safe are our centres?

The recent spate of high-profile robberies at shopping centres in Johannesburg and Pretoria has left some people rather shaken, and questioning the safety and security of the retail industry in general.

In the past month alone, robberies have taken place at Cresta, The Glen, Centurion Mall, Kolonnade Retail Park, Heathway Centre, Sandton City and Eastgate, to name a few. In many cases, the targets have been cellular and electronic retailers, because they stock goods with a perceived high resale value that are also very desirable (even though stolen electronic goods are often rendered useless through blocking and blacklisting).

Also in most cases, the suspects fired shots, possibly because they were confronted by a perceived threat, or possibly as a distraction technique to enable their speedy getaway. It also appears that in some of the cases the robberies may have been linked, and that there were rogue policemen involved. All of this can be rather unnerving to an industry that is still battling with the economic downturn. It begs the question: are we safe, and are our shoppers, tenants and staff?

I have had a number of discussions with people who suggest that a firmer hand is required when dealing with these criminals, to make our centres more secure. In my opinion, fighting back at the time of a robbery with a bunch of desperate vigilantes is a recipe for more injuries. If the goods are insured (and even if they are not), it is not worth risking a life for.

This will not score me any points, but we are busy dealing with larger social issues at hand. In an unstable economy with the huge disparity between the haves and the have nots, there will always be a propensity for crime. But as we grow the country’s middle class, and do the same in Africa, so the situation is likely to stabilise and the crime rate will start to drop. It may still take a number of years, but this is an ideal worth striving for.

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