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Quick thinking keeps school safe during parking lot robbery

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On an ordinary Monday afternoon, a criminal incident in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg meant that a nearby Jewish pre and primary school had to go into lockdown. But they stayed safe thanks to the quick and calm actions of security and staff.

Four armed men entered the parking area adjacent to Sandton Sinai Primary and Pre-Primary School at about 13:00 on 18 October 2021, and held up a private security officer and a Community Security Organisation (CSO) officer.

According to various sources, the CSO officer was hit hard on the head and had a firearm pointed at him. A teacher in the parking lot was also hit and kicked. The CSO officer still managed to alert the school to activate a lockdown. Children and staff were quickly moved to safe areas. Medical and security officials were rushed to the facility, securing it.

“We were notified by our security that we needed to ‘invacuate’ [lockdown] the school as an incident was taking place in the parking lot adjacent to the school,” says Sandton Sinai Pre-Primary Principal Shira Finkel. “We practice our evac and invac plans every term,” she says, “so we were aware of what needed to happen. Swiftly and calmly, we gathered everyone on the property into safe rooms. We weren’t there for very long. We also called CSO for backup, and notified the parents.”

Children listened to music and carried on with their day while in the safe rooms. “The kids were exceptionally calm, and did everything they needed to do,” says Primary School Principal Lara Salkinder. “Afterwards they picked up and carried on. We even had extra murals that day.”

Finkel says the children and staff were debriefed on the day by trained professionals. “Our aim was to not create any fear.”

Looking back on the moments as they unfolded, Finkel says she felt “safe and in control. I knew what I needed to do. Lara and I are both very calm in these situations. It was dealt with appropriately and now we carry on. We can’t let these things rattle us.”

She advises the community to have evacuation plans in place, and practice them regularly. “You never know how you’ll react in these situations, so it’s good to have a system in place. We slotted into it because we take security very seriously.” She’s also doing a CSO training course which has been “empowering”, and advises others, including principals, to do the same.

They are grateful to the entire community and all the organisations who rushed to assist. “We can’t be fearful, we must just be aware,” says Salkinder.

Jevon Greenblatt, the head of operations for CSO Johannesburg, told the SA Jewish Report that the armed robbery took place in a parking area adjacent to the school, a sports centre, and a COVID-19 vaccination centre. He confirmed that a CSO security officer was assaulted, as was a teacher who happened to be in the near vicinity. Both sustained light injuries.

“The officer managed to alert the school to the developing situation, instructing it to activate an immediate lockdown of the facility. The quick thinking of the officer and the school staff ensured that at no stage were the children in any danger,” he says. “Medical and response teams were deployed to the school to bolster the security and treat the injured. Surrounding facilities were also secured as a precaution.”

He believes it was a criminal incident, and that the school wasn’t specifically targeted.

The incident does, however, show the brazenness of criminal elements, Greenblatt says, who don’t shy away from committing crimes at or near a school. “It’s a potential reality that we need to be prepared for, planning our security measures accordingly. We must ensure all the necessary training, protocols, and procedures are in place to protect our schools and facilities, so if such an incident does occur, we can react decisively and appropriately.

“Under the guidance of the CSO, this particular school treats security matters very seriously, implementing proactive measures to ensure that its children are safe,” says Greenblatt. “I believe that’s why we had such a positive outcome under the circumstances.”

Sean Jammy, the chief operating officer of CAP Security, says, “From our understanding, it was an opportunistic crime. We think the crew wanted potentially to steal a firearm or rob someone in the parking lot. CAP is investigating, and working with the South African Police Service. We hope for a positive result by apprehending this group soon.”

He emphasises that the school wasn’t targeted, and the incident had nothing to do with it being Jewish. “We take our CAP mandate to follow up on criminals seriously, and we are following up on this. In general, the Jewish school system is very well protected, and we are supportive of the CSO’s mandate to protect the schools.”

Jammy says the suburb where the school resides isn’t a CAP area, but it does border a CAP area, and the chances of something like this happening in a CAP area are significantly reduced. He encourages all communities to talk to CAP about how they can add a layer of protection to their area, saying, “Very serious crime can happen in any environment.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nadine Katz

    Oct 21, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks

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