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Rudolph Zinn


Robbers disclose what

you should know


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an imprint of NB Publishers,
40 Heerengracht, Cape Town
© Rudolph Zinn (2010)

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying
and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system,
without written permission from the publisher

Editors: Mindy Stanford and Robert Berold

Cover design: Michelle Staples
Book design and typesetting: The Library
Proofreader: Hester van der Walt
Set in Minion Pro, with Avenir Next LT on 11 pt
Printed in South Africa by Interpak Books, Pietermaritzburg

First edition, first impression 2010

ISBN 978-0-624-04874-9

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To my family

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Tables and figures viii

Acknowledgements ix
About the author x
About the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) xi

1 Tackling crime cleverly 1

2 How house robberies are planned 10

3 When your home becomes the target 37

4 A violent invasion 54

5 After the robbery 69

6 Profile of a house robber 83

7 Willing admissions 99

8 Crime intelligence –
what are the police doing? 120

9 How the police can use crime

intelligence more effectively 133

10 Limiting your risk 147

Endnotes 168
Bibliography 178
Further reading 183

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Tables and figures

Figure 1: Times at which the house robberies

occurred 40

Table 1: Treatment meted out to victims inside

target house 60
Table 2: How the robbery takings were spent 74
Table 3: Crimes committed for which
respondents were not convicted 89
Table 4: Cases of house robbery 129
Table 5: Year on year percentage difference on
reported cases 130


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A number of people and organisations contributed to the research
project which became my PhD thesis, which in turn led to this
book. To them I give my sincere thanks:
Tafelberg and especially Annie Olivier who were willing to invest
their resources, efforts and time in publishing the book from the
original research report.
The Institute for Security Studies staff members who believed in
the book and who facilitated and supported the process of publica-
tion: Dr Chandré Gould, Mr Prince Mashele and Dr Johan Burger.
The editors Robert Berold and Mindy Stanford who turned the
academic thesis into a most readable book.
The University of South Africa (Unisa), which allowed me the
time to conduct the research.
Prof Coen Marais and Prof Anthony Minnaar from Unisa, for
their guidance as supervisor and co-supervisor with regard to the
research project.
Lord John Stevens, former commissioner of the Metropolitan
Police Service, London, for his discussions and assistance in mak-
ing available and forwarding research literature.
The Department of Correctional Services, for their permission to
conduct the research in the correctional centres.
The South African Police Service and especially the former head
of detectives, Divisional Commissioner Johan de Beer, for support-
ing me in conducting the research.
All the sentenced house robbers (the respondents), who were
willing to voluntarily grant me interviews.
And finally a special word of thanks to my wife and son, who
forfeited a lot of our family time.


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About the author
Rudolph Zinn worked in various capacities in the South African Po-
lice Service for eight years, including fingerprint classification and
analysis, Radio Control Brixton and a special crime investigation
unit. He left the SAPS with the rank of lieutenant with a number of
High Court commendations for crime investigations to his name, to
join the Department of Police Practice of the then Technikon RSA
in 1991. He lectured there in dactyloscopy, crime investigation and
forensic investigation and later became the departmental chairper-
son for a number of years.
He has initiated and organised a series of world conferences on
modern criminal investigation, organised crime and human rights,
and was a co-founder of the postgraduate courses in forensic inves-
tigation and policing at the Technikon SA and Unisa. He served
as an advisor in the training of the Scorpions, the Malawian
anticorruption unit as well as other law enforcement units. He also
served as an advisor to both Lord John Stevens and Lord Paul Con-
don during their respective terms of office as commissioner of the
Metropolitan Police, London, on the joint training initiatives of law
enforcement agencies in South Africa. He is the vice president of
the South African Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
(SAPSAC) and a member of the editorial board of the accredited
journal on child abuse, CARSA.
Rudolph Zinn has published several chapters in text books, and
articles in accredited scientific journals, relating to policing, crime
investigation, crime intelligence, and related aspects, and presented
papers at a range of national and international conferences. He is
a professor at the College of Law, School of Criminal Justice and
Police Practice at the University of South Africa (Unisa). In 2008 he
obtained his doctorate (DLitt et Phil) in police science from Unisa.
This book is based on the research he has done for his PhD.


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About the Institute for Security Studies
The Institute for Security Studies is a leading human security re-
search institute in Africa. The Institute works towards a stable and
peaceful Africa characterised by sustainable development, human
rights, the rule of law, democracy, collaborative security and gender
mainstreaming. It realises this vision by:
• Undertaking applied research, training and capacity building
• Working collaboratively with others
• Facilitating and supporting policy formulation
• Monitoring trends and policy implementation
• Collecting, interpreting and disseminating information
• Networking on national, regional and international levels

This book has been published in collaboration with the Crime and
Justice Programme of the Institute. The Programme is a policy re-
search unit that works to inform and influence policy and public
discourse on crime, its prevention and criminal justice. It does so
by conducting research, analysing policy, disseminating informa-
tion and providing expertise as a contribution towards a safer and
secure society. This important research by Rudolph Zinn was iden-
tified as supportive of the Programme’s vision, as described above.
The Programme believes that the results of the research should be
made available to all in South Africa who can use this knowledge to
ensure a safer society.

The Crime and Justice Programme can be contacted at:

Block C, Brooklyn Court
361 Veale Street
New Muckleneuk


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Tackling crime cleverly

Drive through any city in South Africa and you cannot help
noticing the vast array of signs proclaiming alarm systems
and armed patrols, together with the rampart-like walls, the
electrified fences and lights, and the snarling guard dog signs
– all attesting to a nation battling to cope with a very high rate
of violent crime.
People in their homes ought to have greater control over
their lives than they do anywhere else, but in South Africa
most people do not feel safe at home. Unlike burglaries, in
which goods are stolen while no one is present, house rob-
beries – as the term is defined by the South African Police
Service (SAPS) – are deliberately planned to take place when
residents are home. This form of intrusion is in many ways
more traumatic than any other type of crime. It shatters the
sense of privacy, control and security that people should feel
in their own homes.
Official police service statistics show that in the majority
of South African house robbery cases the victims are over-
powered and threatened with violence.1 In some robberies

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householders are tortured, beaten, physically intimidated and
verbally abused. On a daily basis South African media carry
reports and graphic descriptions of violent crime, includ-
ing house robberies. The unpredictability and prevalence of
criminal attacks at homes make for extreme levels of insecu-
Adding to the insecurity is the fact that police success rates
are very low when it comes to solving and prosecuting cases
of violent crime. To give an indication, the South African
Law Commission published a report in 2000 on the progress,
outcome, and conviction rates of a representative sample of
crimes reported to the police. The sample of 15 529 cases cov-
ered five categories of crime that had been reported in eight
police areas across the country. More than two years after the
crimes had been reported, the Law Commission analysed
the outcomes of the cases.2 It was found that 88,7 percent of
reported ‘robbery with aggravating circumstances’ cases did
not reach court.3 In addition, only one out of ten reported
robberies involving a dangerous weapon had been brought
to court after two years.4 The researchers’ conclusion: ‘Crime
pays, since South African criminals, even violent criminals,
tend to get away with their crimes’.5
Similarly, an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) report
found that very few of the crimes reported to the police re-
sulted in an arrest or conviction, and that many cases were
withdrawn because of insufficient evidence. The ISS study
showed that only 12,5 percent of cases of robbery with aggra-
vating circumstances actually ended up on the desks of state
This book describes in detail the methods used by house
robbers. My hope, in sharing this information, is to help the
police achieve a more effective rate of arrests, and to assist


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householders to improve their home security and safeguard
their lives in the event of a violent robbery. The 30 people
whom I interviewed during my research – the interviews were
conducted in 2006-077 – were active participants in house
robberies who were serving sentences for this crime. Because
of the geographical distribution of prisons and the logisti-
cal problems of visiting them, I limited the interviews for
the study to correctional centres in Gauteng Province, where
more than half of the serious violent crimes in South Africa
are committed.
I also wanted to establish whether interviews with convict-
ed and incarcerated criminals were a valuable source of in-
formation for crime intelligence purposes. My findings in this
study and in a previous one that I conducted on car hijack-
ers, as well as my own experience in the police service, have
convinced me that information obtained from incarcerated
offenders and the resulting crime intelligence are invaluable
in police work. In this book I suggest how such information
can be systematically incorporated into the South African po-
licing approach.
My own background and previous research experience
have some relevance. I was a detective in the SAPS during the
1980s and a member of a special investigation unit8 that fo-
cused mainly on violent crimes. This book is an adaptation of
my doctoral research into house robberies and in some ways
it builds on the research I did for my master’s degree, where
I looked into motor vehicle hijacking. I established that vehi-
cle hijackers tended to progress from lesser crimes to more
serious ones as their experience and knowledge of crime in-
creased.9 This made me interested in scientifically researching
whether a similar progression also held true for house rob-

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My belief in the effectiveness of crime intelligence grew
through my interaction with two previous police commis-
sioners of the Metropolitan Police Service, London, Lord Paul
Condon and later Lord (Dr) John Stevens. I was very fortu-
nate, through my friendship with these two commissioners,
to be given open access to the police training facilities in the
United Kingdom as well as access to their training material
and research data. I was also fortunate to have been given the
opportunity to undertake a study tour of most of the police
training facilities in several countries in Europe. All this was
put to good use when I did my research in South Africa.
For obvious reasons, any person who has been arrested will
offer investigation officers or prosecutors as little informa-
tion as possible about their criminal activities and associates.
However, once they have been convicted and put behind bars,
they have much less to lose. I wanted to find out if crime intel-
ligence derived from interviews with house robbers could be
used to combat these types of robberies. Apart from its use
in the prevention and investigation of crime, the intelligence
could be used to prevent convicted criminals from returning
to crime and provide useful information for the management
of correctional centres.
Internationally, and especially in the case of the more suc-
cessful police services such as the London Metropolitan Police
Service, jailed offenders are used as a source of crime infor-
mation as a matter of course. However, in South Africa, no of-
ficial instructions or practices exist to debrief offenders once
they have been convicted, either in the police service or the
prison system.10 While it not realistic to debrief all those who
have been convicted, incarcerated criminals are nevertheless
an easily traceable and accessible source of information for
the police and the Department of Correctional Services.11 Yet
this valuable source of information remains untapped.


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The role of crime intelligence in preventing crime
Modern crime-combating strategies place great emphasis
on the prevention of crime. This has unfortunately placed
unrealistic expectations on the police service, which cannot
single-handedly prevent crime, despite its central role in law
enforcement, maintaining of order, investigation and visible
While the investigation of crimes and prosecution of of-
fenders may not be enough to combat South Africa’s excep-
tionally high levels of crime, the gathering and analysis of
crime information are of cardinal value in formulating crime
intelligence.13 Intelligence-led interventions can be reactive,
meaning used in investigating a particular crime that has oc-
curred, or proactive, meaning taking measures to prevent
criminal behaviour that is likely to occur. In the proactive
approach, which is already established in several countries,
rather than starting inquiries into a specific offence after it
has been committed, the police target ‘known’ offenders who
are likely to commit future crimes. Such investigations are be-
coming normal practice.
Proactive policing is strengthened by the multi-agency ap-
proach, also known as ‘partnership policing’. In this form of
policing the police, the public, elected officials, government,
business and other agencies all work together to address com-
munity safety.14 More and more support is currently being
given to this approach in South Africa, so that the police and
all state departments, including the Department of Correc-
tional Services, work with a responsible public to make com-
munities safe places to live.
In this respect the Department of Correctional Services
can make an important contribution by using convicted in-

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mates as a source of crime intelligence. As a visiting Ameri-
can expert, Prof. Jess Maghan, stated at a conference in South

The correctional environment, as a source of information and

production of intelligence useful to law enforcement, remains
an essentially untapped domain. It is timely to develop areas
for intelligence collaboration between law enforcement and
correctional agencies. There is a need to get out of old territori-
al perspectives and talk about sharing intelligence resources.15

South Africa’s high crime rate places the police service under
tremendous daily pressure as police officers attend to large
volumes of complaints and investigate many crime scenes.
There is further pressure from the demands of the public and
the media, who expect the police to ‘do something’ about the
high crime rate. The weight of expectations, the low levels of
support for the police, and the unprecedented crime levels
have resulted in the perpetuation of a policing style that re-
mains largely reactive, and aspires to uphold law and order at
any cost. This means that planning and response are at best ad
hoc and the approach tends to be one of crisis management.
Investigating high numbers of crimes makes excessive de-
mands on crime investigators. They first have to determine
whether a crime has in fact been committed, then they must
establish the identity of the suspects, and then prove that their
actions were illegal and criminal. Clearly the investigator
must be in a position to make use of every potential source
of information that could shed light on the case.16 To enable
follow-through on any criminal act, information relating to
the crime needs to be properly collected, recorded, collated,
analysed, interpreted, verified and processed so that it is us-
able as crime intelligence.


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In other countries the proactive intelligence-driven style
has proven to be effective. Researchers17 and the police them-
selves18 have found that relatively few people are responsible
for the perpetration of a high proportion of crimes. Research-
ers describe this as the 20/80 principle, meaning that 20 per-
cent of the population is usually responsible for committing
80 percent of the crime. In the United States this has given
rise to Repeat Offender Projects, which identify criminals and
arrest those who are responsible for a large number of crimes.
The identification is carried out using crime intelligence
compiled from crime information derived from all available
sources, including sentenced and incarcerated offenders.
Internationally, it is routine for convicted and incarcerated
offenders to be debriefed, for example, by the Federal Bureau
of Investigation in the United States and the London Metro-
politan Police Service in the United Kingdom. Robbers are
part of the crime ‘underworld’ and therefore are very knowl-
edgeable on a wide range of crime issues. This wealth of infor-
mation is, however, not being fully utilised in South Africa as
there is no similar formal (let alone integrated, co-operative
inter-agency) programme to obtain, collect, collate and ana-
lyse crime information from inmates.
While in recent years the South African Police Service has
introduced crime intelligence-led operations, as yet this meth-
od has not been fully adopted by police detectives.19 However,
some branches of the SAPS have launched campaigns based
on crime intelligence. These include the searching of entire
neighbourhoods, such as Hillbrow in Johannesburg, and
forming task teams to deal with specific crime issues. These
intelligence-based initiatives have achieved some success.
Examples include an 85 percent decrease in truck hijacking
between 1998/99 and 2004/05 and a 22 percent reduction in

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motor vehicle hijacking between 2001/02 and 2004/05.20
For house robbery, however, the police service still relies
solely on the more traditional sources of crime information,
such as the computerised crime-reporting system and infor-
mation obtained from informers. Crime intelligence derived
in this way lacks insight into the reasoning and motivation
that lies behind the modus operandi of the offenders. It fails
to provide answers to questions such as why robbers select a
specific target house, how they hide or dispose of stolen goods
or weapons, or why they commit the crime in the first place.
This book is a first step towards answering some of these
questions. Much of the information shared here could not
have been obtained from any other source but the house rob-
bers themselves. It includes their personal motives, details on
how they plan their crimes, their relationships with crime as-
sociates, and their crime preferences.
For instance, it became clear from the face-to-face in-
terviews that the house robbers would consider burgling
premises where nobody was at home but they generally pre-
ferred to conduct a robbery when residents were home. This
was because they were then less likely to be surprised and had
more control over the residents and the premises. They could
force residents to de-activate alarms and give them access to
safes, and make them to quickly point out where valuables
such as expensive jewellery is kept or hidden. They can also
tie residents up and/or lock them up to prevent communica-
tion with police or armed response units.
The fact that the overwhelming majority of respondents,
most of whom did not know each other, concurred about the
crime information they provided, makes for a high probabil-
ity that the information they provided was true and accurate.
It correlates with media news reports by victims of house rob-


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beries on what transpired during the robbery. It is also con-
firmed by my own police detective experience in investigat-
ing many cases of house robbery.
Subsequent to concluding my study and handing a copy of
the report to the police service’s crime intelligence unit, I was
informed that this unit had conducted a case docket analy-
sis of a thousand house robberies reported to the police in
2008/09. At the time, neither myself nor the members of the
SAPS who conducted the case docket analysis were aware of
each other’s research. The SAPS members compared the find-
ings of their study and mine, and informed me that the find-
ings concurred. (The police’s study was limited to the quanti-
tative information contained in the case files.)
The robbers in my study had each carried out an average
of 40 burglaries and four other house robberies by the time
they were arrested. They also admitted to and provided in-
formation on a range of other crimes they had committed
for which they have not been prosecuted. I gave all the jailed
house robbers I interviewed a written undertaking that I
would not to reveal their identities either directly or indirect-
ly. However, there was an ethical, legal and moral considera-
tion that I needed to resolve. In the course of disclosing in-
formation about crimes they had committed, the respondents
might also give away information that could lead to the arrest
of other suspects. I overcame the dilemma by gathering the
information in such a way that nobody had to mention any
names or addresses.
Finally, the house robbers provide valuable advice on how
householders can more effectively avoid becoming robbery
victims; and in the event of a robbery, what actions residents
can take to minimise the chances of being injured or killed.

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