Urban Crime: How city gangs operate

Den. Police cordon off the scene where a criminal gang was arrested after a fire exchange in Kiguli Village, Kisenyi III Parish in Kampala on April 28, 2018. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI.

What you need to know:

  • The gangsters have increased urban crime in the country as dreaded groups try to outsmart each other in turf battles between ruffians that traffic in drugs, are hired to kill or kidnap, break into people’s homes and rob and pickpocket with impunity.

A spate of kidnaps, murders, shootings, burglaries and other crimes lay at the door of a dreaded gang operating in Kampala Metropolitan area and other parts of the country, giving residents, as well as security teams, sleepless nights.

The gangsters have increased urban crime in the country as dreaded groups try to outsmart each other in turf battles between ruffians that traffic in drugs, are hired to kill or kidnap, break into people’s homes and rob and pickpocket with impunity.

Kampala Metropolitan area is infested with several panga [machete]-wielding gangs, as well as armed thugs that have been terrorising city dwellers. Some have been arrested by police authorities and others remain at large. The group members enlisted through the underworld connections have given themselves pseudo names to disguise their identity and operate under creepy names such as Kifeesi, B-13, Da Dangers, Bukolwa crew, Baboon, Kasolo boys, Bijambiya, Dog Tulumbe, Dog Kaye, Whisper, Big Young, Young Kikuubo, Kagirita, Kamenke among others.

The thugs, according to police sources, operate in well-coordinated criminal gangs that terrorise the residents of Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono areas. Although new groups emerge, some of the old groups have since been defused by a joint security team and the gang leaders either killed in action, fled or sent to prison.
Those interrogated by security agencies have, however, given details on how they operate, and talked of a ruthless command structure that has inflicted unspeakable misery on city residents and in some cases left people dead. Some gangs carry stolen or hired guns and others have machetes and iron-bars or katayimbwa.

The gangs:
Gang targeting foreigners
This gang targets only foreign nationals carrying large sums of money. The gang patrol their victims on motorcycles, especially at the banks and other financial institutions when they are making transactions.

After their victims have exited the financial institutions with cash, they wait in a traffic jam where they knock the victim’s car and when the affected person comes out to examine the damage, they pounce on him or her in numbers. Some punch the victim, while others go for the bag containing the cash.
Thereafter, they jump on boda boda motorcycles and flee the scene.
This group doesn’t carry any weapons. Members of their team that strike first do not fear to be arrested since they keep their faces uncovered even where there are CCTV cameras.

Kampala Metropolitan Police have recorded at least seven such incidents since last month.
It is the same group that attacked the manager of Mid West Forex Bureau, Mr Hassan Maalim, a Kenyan national, near his premises after withdrawing cash from DTB Bank in September at Wilson Street.

They also beat a Chinese national, broke his hand and robbed him of his cash on Bombo Road.
According to police, the group was headed by Paul Ssemwogerere, alias Whisper, who has already been arrested alongside seven of his accomplices.

Gang breaking in offices and shops
This gang invests in its operations. A gang member would rent a shop in the arcade near their targeted victims.
Most of their victims are financial institutions like forex bureaus that keep cash in their coffers at night, and shops selling mobile phones.

On the fateful day, the criminals would pretend to be renovating their shop, which would give them time to work at night. They would then drill holes in the wall next to the shops of their victims. They then steal money, laptops, mobile phones and other valuables before abandoning the shop. Forex bureaus and phone shops located in arcades are the major victims.
Many sellers of mobile phones no longer leave their merchandise in the shops. After work, they carry their stock to their homes.

Police haven’t yet arrested the suspects in these type of criminality.
Owners of buildings have resorted to releasing dogs in the arcades that roam the staircases to detect any criminals at night.

Boda Boda gangs
The boda boda gang members operate on roads with low traffic. They target people holding or checking mobile phones and bags probably waiting for public service vehicles.

These gang members also snatch phones and handbags before speeding away. Women are their major targets.
Most of the mobile phones that they steal are never recovered since their sale points are in neighbouring countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan.

The three countries’ legal regimes are still weak on mobile phones whose serial numbers have been altered and cannot be tracked and recovered.
One of the gang member operating on boda boda was shot dead by police and Local Defence Unit personnel on Tuesday night in Kigagga Zone, Mutundwe in Rubaga Division.

The members of boda boda gang also disguise as mechanics. They hoodwink unsuspicious motorists that their cars have a problem and when you stop, they pierce one of the car tyres before they rob you. They are always three on a boda-boda and carry a toolbox. They operate on highways and in the Kampala metropolitan areas.

The UPDF First Infantry Division spokesman, Maj Bilal Katamba, said the deceased, Tony Male, a resident of Kirinyabigo, with his accomplice Henry Mutumba, attacked a female victim and robbed her of Shs300,000.
“The suspects attempted to rape her when the security officers arrived and shot Male. Mutumba surrendered and he has been detained,” Maj Katamba said.

Mobile Money agent attackers
Mobile money gangs are deadly. They work in a big network countrywide and they are able to lend each other the few guns in their possession.
The arrest of Brian Mbogo, who is alleged to have shot Hussein Mutyaba in Bulaga, Wakiso District, and his colleagues has given detectives clues on how these criminals operate. In this case, they used one gun that they reportedly sneaked into the country from DR Congo to terrorise residents in Mbarara District and also in Kampala.

The suspects told police that they have colleagues whose work is to spot the targets carrying money. After they are sure that their victims will carry the money, they alert the second team that schedules with one who offers the guns at a fee.
One group follows the target, while another on boda boda, waylays the victim at their home where they rob them of cash and mobile phones and at times kill the victims.
The suspects told police that the mobile phones are thrown away moments after the robbery to avoid being tracked.

The burglars

How they operate. The burglary gangs first send surveillance teams that move around homes claiming to be buyers of used equipment like flat iron, bottles and shoes. Some pretend to be hawkers or pedicure boys.

Sometimes they claim to be selling cheap household products like jerry, soap and containers. Others pretend to be employees of utility companies such as Umeme or National Water and Sewerage Corporation. Their member would enter an enclosed estate and move from one house to another ‘seeking buyers’ and demanding to look at the water or power metre.

Since most metallic doors are opened from outside, the criminal would be able to know the type of lock and bolt each household uses.
With or without selling any product, the criminal would have understood the geography of the estate and selected the victims.
He and colleagues would later come back at night after several weeks to break in the houses.

Former deputy Inspector General of Police, Julius Odwe. File photo

Why police haven’t stopped criminal gangs

In the Uganda Police Force Strategic Policing Plan 2015/2020, police lists more than 30 strategic policing challenges that have hampered effective execution of their duty.

Key among them is the poor welfare of the police officers that has had their morale shaken.
The police say “poor staff welfare and development” has had a highly “detrimental effect on the staff motivation and performance”.
With low morale, the police say, the officers do not effectively work to keep law and order and fighting criminal gangs that have become a menace in the country.
“The salary for police personnel is meagre, a major de-motivating factor and breeds temptations to corruption tendencies. This is also one of the causes of the high attrition [desertion] rate estimated at an average of 1,000 personnel annually,” the police say.
The State Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr Obiga Kania, says the issue of welfare may “strategically delay” but won’t stop the fight against these criminal gangs.
A police constable earns a monthly salary of Shs400,000 per month. Mr Kania says security forces are working together to stop the increased crime rate in Uganda.

Pay dissatisfaction aside, the housing situation “leaves a lot to be desired, and does not favour family life” because the majority of the personnel share rooms and some are forced to build their own “shanty or makeshift houses and others rent using the meagre salaries”.
In the same strategic plan, police mention lack of enough manpower, especially the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) case file ratio per year, which stands at 21, a number that is higher than the international standard of annual 12 case files.

This creates heavy work load for the CID.
“This has resulted into an annual average of 58 per cent of criminal cases remaining under inquiry and a low conviction rate of less than 30 per cent over the last six years,” reads part of the strategic plan.
Weighing in on the challenges, former deputy Inspector General of Police Julius Odwe yesterday mentioned poor training and corruption in the police as the main reasons why police have failed to prevail over the increasing crime rate.

He agrees with the police report that police officers are demoralised, “but by the continued deployment of the soldiers in the police force”.
“Psychological satisfaction can never be brought by only material wealth. These police officers are demoralised because of poor management and these soldiers who are brought to run the Force,” he said.

He disagrees with issue of lack of enough manpower.
“They shouldn’t talk about lack of manpower because the other day, they wanted to recruit 4,500 but reduced the numbers because some of those who turned up were old! Age cannot be a hindrance when it comes to security management,” he said.
He advised that President Museveni operationalises the National Security Council structures, which he says are supposed to run up to the sub-county level.
The National Security Council is supposed to receive and act on reports from the national Joint Intelligence Committee.

“Instead of having the Council working at all levels, it operates only at the top but there are no structures at the district and sub-county level,” Mr Odwe said.
Police say they need to operationalise their forensic laboratory for investigations.
“This requires equipping, training personnel and provision of materials and logistics that facilitate scientific investigations,” he added.

Mr Odwe said poor criminal investigations cause sufficient ground for conviction of the suspects, who are either acquitted or given bail, which gives suspects a chance to get out of prison and commit more crimes.
“But also, the Judiciary is clogged with cases which are not tried. At the end, the law says these suspects should be released on bail and when they are released, they again commit crimes when still on bail,” he said.
He also mentioned poor crime intelligence to detect and stop crime as another reason why crime is increasing.

Tasked. Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeeyi

Sabiiti to present security plan today

The deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeeyi, is to present his security plan to deal with violent crime in Kampala Metropolitan Police Area to President Museveni today.

President Museveni gave police two days to present a plan on how they are to deal with violent crime in which criminals were raiding homes and robbing their victims.
Since Tuesday, senior police officers have been meeting at police headquarters in Kampala to draw a security plan.
Deputy police spokesperson Polly Namaye said the police deputy chief will present the plan as per the directive by President Museveni.
“The presidential directive will be implemented,” Ms Namaye said.

The criminals, usually in groups ranging from four to seven people, armed with machetes, housebreaking implements and sometimes firearms, attack homes and make off with home appliances, cars and money.
The criminals have been operating in areas of Kira Municipality in Wakiso District, Entebbe Road areas of Kajjansi and Bwebajja, Lungujja and Kasangati.
Senior police officers said they had already started cracking down on the gangs in Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) area and more than 20 suspects had been arrested.

The KMP commander, Mr Moses Kafeero, said a gang that was operating in Kira Municipality, had been dealt with and some of the property that was stolen recovered.
“The suspects were arrested as they were driving the stolen car. The car and the property have been handed over to the owner. Kira is now safe,” Mr Kafeero said.
He said they are increasing deployments in KMP area to narrow down on criminals.