Police have unearthed tricks used by thugs to unlock and steal cars parked on Kampala streets, at supermarkets, workplaces, homes and other facilities, cautioning the public to stay vigilant.
The Force was responding to the public outcry about the alarming motor vehicle thefts in Kampala City.
The Flying Squad Unit (FSU) 2017 report reveals several tricks, including duplication of car keys. Others are intentional or staged bumps into one’s vehicle, the use of duplicated number plates and window smashing.
According to police, these tricks were used to steal more than 200 cars last year.
According to the report, Toyota Premio brands were most targeted by the thugs followed by Toyota Spacio, Raum and Ipsum cars that came in second, third and fourth positions respectively.
“Thugs are using washing bay operators. They pay them some money to duplicate car keys. They place the key on a bar of soap and afterwards duplicate it without the owner’s knowledge,” said Mr Herbert Muhangi, the FSU commandant.
Police said some car keys are duplicated when vehicles are driven to garages for repair where some mechanics pretend to be test driving.
Mr Muhangi explained that their investigations have revealed a clique of 20 thugs spread all over the country and have connections in neighbouring countries.
“These thugs are the same. Once arrested in Kampala, chances are you find the same person in a similar crime in Arua, Bunagana, Mutukula, Gulu or Gatuna,” he said.
He said thugs bump into unsuspecting victims intentionally, especially on highways, as a way of diverting their attention and steal their vehicles once they stop.
“These criminals intentionally scratch your car and when you stop to check the magnitude of the damage caused, they grab and put you in their own car. One of them sits in your car and they drive off up to a secluded place where you are dumped,” Mr Muhangi said.
Other criminals moving on boda bodas distract unsuspecting drivers by telling them that their tyre pressure is low and when they get out of the cars to inspect, their cars are driven off.
This kind of criminality stretches to roads such as Yusuf Lule, Entebbe, Bwaise-Kawempe, Kisenyi, Nansana and Nakulabye.
“The tricks of knocking cars and showing duplicated number plates have seen several drivers lose their vehicles to criminals. We ask drivers that in case you are knocked on the way please do not stop unless there are several other drivers or a police officer,” Mr Muhangi said.
The report shows that 204 cars were stolen countrywide but Kampala and Arua districts registered the highest number of car theft cases.
Police said 90 per cent of cars stolen last year ended up in DR Congo but a quarter of those stolen in the first quarter of 2018 have found their way to Kenya.
Incidents of harming owners occur among luxurious vehicles such as TX, Land Cruiser, Fuso Fighter and Range Rovers, which are said to be highly demanded by businessmen in DR Congo, Mbarara, and Busia in Kenya.
“Thugs use guns to kidnap, kill or hurt drivers of expensive cars. In cases where guns have been used, we arrest about five or more suspects in a single case because it is a mission that has to be executed by more than one person,” Mr Muhangi said.
Police said thugs at times knock at the co-driver’s window, especially in cars where the driver is the only occupant with an aim of diverting their attention.
“This shifts your attention to the co-driver’s side mirror to establish what hit your car and in the process, criminals push you to the roadside where they block your car and quickly bundle you in their own car or throw you out. This trick of car theft is normally used at highways during late evening or in the early morning hours,” Mr Muhangi said.
Mr Muhangi said intentional knocks have not only been used to steal cars but also to rob money from drivers.
The “intentional knocks” trick was applied in the murder of Francis Ekalungar, who was an accountant at Case Hospital Accountant. Ekalungar was kidnapped and killed in January en route to the bank with Shs15m.
Police said he was intentionally scratched by thugs at Yusuf Lule Road and was grabbed once he moved out to engage those who had knocked him.
His body was discovered burnt beyond recognition in Kajjansi. Police and army arrested more than 11 suspects, who are currently being tried in court.
“Sometimes these criminals target bullion vans or individual drivers, who are suspected to be carrying a lot of money on them. They knock and grab you once you stop. The money is taken and driver is dumped in a strange place or sometimes killed,” he said.
Police said thugs have not only used those tricks to steal cars but motorcycles too.
In the same period, 105 motorcycles were stolen and most of them were intercepted in Iganga District as they were being smuggled to Mbale and Busia districts.
Bajaj motorcycles are mostly stolen from Kampala, Iganga and Arua.
These motorcycles, according to police are also sold to Ugandans living at the DR Congo border.
“We urge drivers and motorcyclists to take caution where they park and which washing bays they go to. Don’t give chance to someone to duplicate your keys,” Mr Muhangi said.
Ending car theft is proving a major huddle since culprits have enough money to rescue their colleagues on court bail.
“We defeated the war on thugs, who were kidnapping special hire drivers but these ones have a lot of money. Whenever a colleague is arrested, they mobilise money to stand him surety. Most of these thugs have over five court bails but they don’t care,” Mr Muhangi said.