Outsmarting cunning criminals is key to catching them because the visibility of officers alone is not enough to stamp out crime, says the Johannesburg Metro Police Department.

We need to do smart policing to catch smart criminals. You need to operate at a criminal’s level to catch (them) with (their) own system, Sergeant Rico van Wyk from the K9 unit told News24 recently.

Van Wyk said unless you were street smart like a criminal, you would never catch a criminal.

Having a sheer police mentality was not enough.

Revamped K9 Narcotics Unit

The war against drugs was bolstered with the launch of a revamped K9 Narcotics Unit in Johannesburg in November.

The unit, made up of various authorities, including police and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department, is a specialised team of officers and dogs who are trained to handle hijackings, robberies, bombs, kidnappings and drug-related incidents.

Cars used by members of the unit are unmarked, making it easier to infiltrate communities which are especially hard hit with drug problems.

Since the revamp, the unit has had several successes.

A total of 59 people have been arrested for being in possession of drugs. Other arrests included on assault charges, firearm-related matters, robberies, motor vehicle thefts and hijackings.

Between November and December the unit managed to recover 113 stolen and hijacked vehicles. A total of 57.145 grams of drugs was also recovered over the period.

K9 unit commander Stanley Swartz said its goal was to prevent crime in Johannesburg.

The main focus is to make Johannesburg a safer place for all of us. I have a family of my own. It is important to reduce crime for people to feel safer, Swartz said.

However, he acknowledged there was still lots to be done.

People think everything is going to happen overnight, but there is still so much work to do. People don’t realise the amount of time and effort we put in to catch someone.

Swartz said they needed to monitor some criminals for a long time.

He described the transition of an undercover agent to a family member as the most important thing.

Acting like a criminal when you are surrounded with them, doing your job as an officer and then going home to your family, is one of the most challenging things. You constantly need to adapt.

Without any information, one would never catch intended targets, and therefore it was important to keep a balance, Swartz said.