Durban – The hidden language of criminals who target suburban homes has been translated by police and shared with the public to help stop crimes before they happen.

At a meeting about vagrants and crime held at the Musgrave Library in Glenwood Village on Thursday, the metro police shared a list of signs that had been compiled with the SAPS over several months of attending crime scenes.

Metro police captain Dingaan Motsamai, who gave the presentation, explained how a “Z” painted on a stop sign, piles of stones and strategically placed crisp packets outside gates were signs left by criminals watching a house ahead of a burglary or armed robbery.

The meeting had been about enforcing by-laws and dealing with vagrancy.

Councillors from Durban North, Westville, Yellowwood Park and Glenwood, as well as members of several community policing forums, were present.

They all expressed concern at the vagrant crisis that was spilling into their communities as vagrants and whoonga addicts were chased from the worst areas of the Berea and Warwick Triangle.

Motsamai urged people not to “feed” beggars at traffic lights. The audience agreed the issue was “social” and required a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including the government and NGOs.

Motsamai warned that the use of hidden markers to target homes was on the rise.

The trend was first noticed in 2010 but had died down. Recently, though, police had seen several signs of it again.

“If your dog dies suddenly or vomits, check for black specks in the vomit or for white powder near the dog.

“Please open a case with the police who must give you a case number. You are in danger if your dog suddenly gets sick; criminals will infiltrate (your house),” he said.

“I’m not trying to scare people – it’s reality.”

Glenwood councillor Nicole Graham said people should attend community safety meetings so they could be made aware of criminals’ tactics.

The chairwoman of the Bulwer community safety forum, Heather Hayward Rorick, said residents needed to be aware of crime trends in their areas.

Asked for comment, crime researcher Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies said there was a split in opinion about the “modus operandi” described by Motsamai and that he thought it was more prevalent in rural areas.

These are the signs police are warning the public to watch for:

* “Z” painted on a stop sign or on the road – houses in street targeted for burglary.

* Pile of little stones – warns of dogs

* Two big stones together – two old people

* Stones in a row – indicates how many people in the house

* Swastika painted on road – houses in street targeted for burglary.

* Direction of the Swastika indicates which house is the target.

* Coke tin, red cloth, crisp packet etc – can expect resistance.

* 2 Coke tins indicates the owner is armed.

* Coke tin opening towards the house – someone is home.

* Upright Coke tin – nobody home.

* White sorghum carton, plastic bag – easy target.

* Sorghum carton facing towards house – target marked.

* White plastic bag on fence – easy target.

* Green was used as a direction marker.

* The direction that a bottle pointed indicated the direction the criminals should proceed.

* Blue and/or blue and white: Clicks packets, etc – easy target and someone inside will help.

* Simba (or Lays) chip packets were normally neatly folded, but sometimes weighed down by something inside the packet.

* Crisp packet facing the house – owner at home.

* Crisp packet facing the road – no-one home.

* Shoes and soles near or by the gate – no-one home and direction of the shoes indicates the escape route.

* Wrong numbers on your house or cell phone – checking if you are home.

* If electricity is off at the main box be aware of leaving the house open as people inside are targets.

* Sudden strange items in front of a house like a cardboard box, bricks, tree branch – do not stop to remove or you will be a target.

* Brick – normally indicates a car to be stolen.

* Two or three bricks (normally new bricks) – house robbery planned.

* The police advised home-owners to immediately remove and dispose of all markers and to keep pavements neat and tidy. He said the problem would be hard to imagine in urban areas because there are address and criminals could use “GPS” to locate their targets, which was not the case in rural areas.

* Two big stones together – two old people (are home). Stones placed in a row indicated the number of people in the house. Swazika painted on road showed houses in street targeted for burglary and its direction indicating the targeted house.

* A red coke tin, cloth, crisp packet, et cetera warned the attackers to “expect resistance”. Two coke tins warned that the owner was armed.

* The colour black – stock theft

* Poisoning: If a dog dies suddenly or vomits, check for black specks in the vomit or white powder near the dog. Report all dog poisonings to the SAPS who MUST give you a case number.

* Listen to your barking dog.

* Kiewiets (and geese) are excellent watch dogs. They sound the alarm when a human encroaches on their territory. Become aware of their various calls.