Police stumble across evidence of crime wave: thieves have stolen their station

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When the police stations are being stolen, you know that there is a serious crimewave in progress.

When the police stations are being stolen, you know that there is a serious crimewave in progress.

Only the outer walls and parts of the roof of a satellite "cop shop" in an inner-city suburb of Port Elizabeth remain in place after some of South Africa's thieves attacked it. But they will probably eventually to go, too, in a province that is one of the poorest in the country.

Last year, an entire prefabricated Port Elizabeth high school awaiting repair was taken overnight, with its security fence. The school building has been reused for shacks in Kwazakhele township.

The Korsten police station, a building rented from the department of public works in an area plagued by gangs and violence, has been stripped of windows, doors, cupboards, furniture, wiring and bits of roof.

The station was evacuated two months ago when its staff were redeployed on a national anti-crime campaign called Operation Crackdown, Senior Superintendent Marinda Mills, speaking for the provincial police, told The Independent, adding: "Korsten is a high-crime area and we have been focusing on it, but we needed to use the staff elsewhere. I believe the place has been vandalised."

A local resident, Lionel Butler, is outraged. He told the Mail & Guardian newspaper: "Armed robberies, stabbings, muggings, rapes - all sorts of crimes are committed here. I can't believe that instead of building more police stations in the area they have closed the only one - and it is being carried away piece by piece."

Indeed, the police force is horribly understaffed, with only 127 000 people to fight criminals in one of the world's most dangerous countries. There are more private security officers than police.

The police claim that there has been a drop in serious crime in Port Elizabeth because of Operation Crackdown. But they cannot prove it, since the Safety and Security Minister, Steve Tshwete, has put a ban on the release of crime information for a year, saying the police system of crime reporting is flawed and in the process of being reformed.