Vehicle crime in Southern Africa is a major concern and has been given a high priority. It is premeditated, planned, systematic and committed most often by at least two or more people acting in common purpose with transnational links. It is motivated by high profit margins, and is often linked to other criminal activities.
Vehicle crimes occur across Southern Africa and cross borders. Different nationalities comprise the networks involved. Organised gangs exploit routes and systems used by the legitimate economy. The flow of proceeds of this crime is complex. INTERPOL RB Harare, which is also the SARPCCO Coordinating Office, has the noble task of leading, aiding and sustaining the fight by Member Countries to rid the region of Transnational and Cross Border Vehicle Crime through policing initiatives that are aimed at bringing justice to the wide spectrum of offended victims of vehicle crime. SARPCCO professionally engages all relevant stakeholders in ensuring that criminal syndicates are dismantled.
Vehicle Crime trends in Southern Africa
The escalation of vehicle crime in Southern Africa is being enabled by technological innovations in transport, information and communications. The following are resultant trends observed:
Car Theft And Jacking
This trend involves vehicle theft where violence is not used. Cars are usually stolen from homes, businesses and parking lots using various methods to break into the cars, which includes security system vandalism, immobilisation and jamming devices amongst others. Carjackers use violence, including use of firearms, to obtain the vehicle from the victims and it can occur anywhere. It is prevalent in major commercial cities with dense populations and higher volume of cars. Smaller cars are targeted for easy sale, stripping of parts, and use in the commission of other crimes. Larger vehicles such as 4×4 or SUVs are targeted for transnational trafficking.
The region continues to experience motor vehicle insurance fraud. This is where vehicle owners dispose their vehicles to criminals or genuine buyers usually in foreign countries. They subsequently make a theft report thereby getting double payment from the fraudulent sale as well as rebates from insurance.
Cyber nexus to vehicle crime
Genuine buyers of vehicles through the internet have lost money after their transactions have been manipulated by criminals. Imported vehicles have been diverted to other destinations following internet scams. Bank transactions to sellers have been rerouted by criminals. Fictitious websites are being created resulting in genuine buyers dealing with fake companies and paying for non-existent vehicles online. Organized criminal networks use Internet auction sites to sell stolen cloned vehicles, identification tags, license plates and other parts.
Criminals counterfeit a vehicle’s identification numbers, stickers, labels and titles from a legally owned and documented vehicle sitting in a parking lot or car dealership. High-value sport utility vehicles and luxury cars are often targeted. The legitimate Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is then used to create a counterfeit VIN tag. From there, thieves steal a similar vehicle as the legally owned one and replace the stolen vehicle’s VIN tag with the counterfeit. Bearing a counterfeit tag, the stolen vehicle is now a “clone” of the legitimate one and can be registered without detection by government agencies. To complete this scam, criminals forge ownership documents for the cloned vehicle or obtain the ownership documentation under false pretences, such as identity theft. They utter the forged documents to sell the stolen vehicle to a buyer at a below market value. The cloned vehicle are virtually undetectable by consumers and may only be discovered through physical inspections by experienced auto theft investigators.
SARPCCO Initiatives In The Region
Stolen Motor Vehicle Crime remains a cause for concern in the Region regarding the fact that stolen motor vehicles can be used in nearly all other kinds of Cross Border Crimes including conflict areas where Organised Criminals may coordinate the trafficking of stolen vehicles to conflict areas or to known conflict groups. Durable and all-terrain vehicle models inevitably become a necessity to those tasked with coordinating logistics for the conflict groups. The lustre of ready and high profits emanating from vehicle crime calls for the region to be proactive in the fight against Transnational Vehicle Crime.
Joint operations and investigations
Joint efforts have seen countries that are better equipped to deal with emerging vehicle crime trends teaming up with the not so able countries to jointly eradicate vehicle crime. All regional operations have been deliberately biased towards vehicle crime. The Regional Bureau has ensured availability of MIND devises to access the International database of stolen vehicles during these operation.Even Inter Regional Operations in the form of the Usalama Series with East Africa have also been deliberately influenced to check on vehicle crime during the operations hence huge amounts of vehicles are recovered and repatriated to their source countries during the operations.
Capacity building and training
Capacity building continues to be a mainstay for fighting vehicle crime in the region. On an annual basis each country sends two participants to a three week course for vehicle crime investigators. The course is designed as a Train the Trainer course where participants are urged to further train at national level other vehicle crime investigators. The SARPCCO Centre of Excellence which is churning out Graduates from the Region in a Diploma in strategic Management as an Affiliate to the University of Zimbabwe has also co-opted a course in which vehicle crime experts deliver to the strategic leaders which serves to influence their future participation in the regional fight against vehicle crime.
Prioritization of Vehicle Crime
Vehicle crime has been listed as a priority crime in southern Africa alongside Anti-terrorism, drugs and counterfeit pharmaceuticals, Economic and Commercial crimes, Firearms and Explosives, Trafficking in gold, diamonds and other precious stones and metals, Crimes Against women and children, Illegal Immigrants and Stolen and lost travel documents, Wildlife crime and Endangered species, Trafficking in human beings and Stock theft.
Promotion of the expansion of I-24/7 to the frontline users
The ongoing project on the expansion of the secure INTERPOL communication system to frontline users enables speedy access to the International database of stolen motor vehicles. All countries in the region have embraced the project but only one is yet to roll it out.
SARPCCO Vehicle Clearance System
The system was initially approved by the Chiefs of Police during the SARPCCO annual General Meeting in Swaziland on 27 July 1999. It is a system which results in the issuance of a unique vehicle clearance certificate with its own security features. The certificate serves as proof that a vehicle was not reported as stolen or as being sought as a result of any crime in a SARPCCO country where it had been registered before being taken to another SARPCCO country for purposes of registration. It aims at addressing illegal vehicle trafficking in the Southern African region. Designated officers first undergo an acceptable course prior to appointment as clearance officers. The certificate must be issued during normal working hours during daylight. The owner of a vehicle or his/her proxy legally entitled to possess the vehicle may apply for a SARPCCO Clearance Certificate. It is valid for 90 days.
Vehicle crime Liaison Officers
A network of vehicle crime liaison Officers was created at a regional level. These are senior Officers nominated by Member Countries to liaise for the successful investigation and repatriation of stolen motor vehicles in the region. They are guided by Standard Operation Procedures on the repatriation of recovered motor vehicles which were approved by the regional Police Chiefs.
Joint projects with other regions and IPSG
The RB engages in synergic joint projects with IPSG from which the region can access funding for interventions on vehicle crime at a global level. The interventions include the FORMATRAIN where participants engage in three days of in class training followed by two days of practical operation. This helps to keep the Regional Law Enforcement abreast with emerging vehicle crime trends.