Mpumalanga police, together with the Tracker Connect Team, on Thursday arrested three people for robbery, impersonating police officers and possession of suspected stolen property.
The province has been plagued by robberies and hijackings involving criminals posing as police officers.
On 13 February, three friends were hijacked and robbed of their valuables by four men posing as police officers near Delmas, News24 reported.
According to provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, the arrest of the suspects was part of the police’s efforts to end these robberies and “bring to justice all the suspects who are terrorising motorists by posing as different law enforcement agencies”.
Hlathi said robbers would often pull over vehicles and rob occupants of their goods or belongings on the N12 around Delmas, on the N4 around Emalahleni, and between Balmoral and Bronkhorstspruit and surrounding areas.
“Police have registered a number of cases where suspects masquerading as law enforcement agencies would flash blue lights at motorists signalling them to stop, then rob them of their belongings, or cargo in the case of trucks.
“Some of the victims happen to be foreign nationals and domestic tourists who are usually followed from Gauteng and then pounced on around Witbank [Emalahleni] and Delmas. In Delmas, vehicles that are targeted include trucks transporting different cargo.
“They also stop the drivers by flashing a blue light and then force them to drive to secluded areas. The suspects then tie up the victims and empty the loads, leaving them helpless in the bushes.”
Hlathi said most complaints were reported at Delmas police station.
“However, the modus operandi revealed that police in Mpumalanga were facing a common challenge with their counterparts in Gauteng and therefore they worked together – hence the breakthrough.
“Subsequent to receiving these complaints, both provinces have been working on a plan that would bring an end to this reign of terror. They then coordinated their activities as a collective with the Tracker Connect Team and surveilled the movements of these suspects.”
Police analysed the suspects’ trends from Gauteng. Some of the victims were followed from Mbombela and other areas in the Lowveld, and then pounced on.
On Thursday, police spotted a VW Polo on the N4 which fit the description of the vehicle they were looking for. Police instructed the driver to stop but he allegedly ignored them.
“The actions of the driver led to a high-speed chase and the suspects were finally cornered in Emalahleni. Upon searching the three suspects and the vehicle, police recovered SAPS appointment cards, cellphones believed to be those belonging to the victims as well as other items. The trio were immediately charged accordingly,” said Hlathi.
Extensive investigations are still under way as police believe more suspects are operating around Delmas and Emalahleni.
“A preliminary probe suggests that the trio might be connected to a number of [crimes] that were committed mainly in Mpumalanga and Limpopo.”
Hlathi said the police would broaden the scope of their investigations.
“Police cannot rule out the possibility of linking the suspects to other reported cases of robbery in and around the province.”
The three alleged robbers are expected to appear in the Witbank Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Police called on those who were robbed in the areas mentioned but did not open cases, to contact the Emalahleni police station.
Mpumalanga police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mondli Zuma has applauded the police and the Tracker Connect Team for the arrests.
“We cannot allow individuals to drag the name of law enforcement agencies through the mud without any consequence,” said Zuma.