Crime still rife during lockdown

Police officers at a roadblock in Joe Marks Boulevard in Retreat.

Community police forums (CPFs) have called for more patrols in problem areas to combat petty and other crimes not related to the contravention of the lockdown regulations.

Philip Bam,spokesperson for Grassy Park CPF, said he had received numerous complaints of robberies, house burglaries and car break-ins but regular patrols in areas had not been conducted.

“There were four people shot and killed in our areas. Crime is not on lockdown and there have been a number of robberies; seniors have been robbed of their pension money and houses have been burgled. People are not even taking the trouble to call the
police anymore because they are not coming out and their calls
are not being answered when
they call the police station,” he said.

Mr Bam said crime continued and the only people who seemed to be able to walk around were the criminals.

“A lot of resources are spent to keep law-abiding citizens at home and to find and arrest them, people who might have been innocently out doing something that they probably needed to do. Those people are targeted but the skelms are walking about and nobody is stopping them. Crime is not being attended to and this is very unfortunate,” he said.

Mr Bam added: “The skelms know that police are preoccupied at the moment and they are attending to lockdown regulations and roadblocks. There are so many resources at these roadblocks and those are vehicles that could have been patrolling our streets. You can’t have 20 law enforcement vehicles standing at one point while criminals are walking the streets.”

He said the lockdown of the CPF also meant there was no civilian oversight.

Gavin Walbrugh, chairperson for the Steenberg CPF, said the situation was frustrating because the community needed the CPF and services.

“The government decided that we are not essential services but we are very essential.”

He said the Steenberg CPF had not had any official statistics and while there had been no serious crimes, there had been complaints about petty crimes.

Asked if gang-related incidents had increased, Mr Walbrugh said the area had been quiet, with no shootings reported.

“The only major problem we have is that people are not adhering to the lockdown rules and are still walking around,” he said.

“They are not taking the preventative measures to stop the spread of the virus seriously and that is a problem. Police are doing patrols but as soon as they are gone, people are walking around again. Action must be taken to stop this.”

The City of Cape Town has also called on the national government to reconsider their stance on the deployment of the neighbourhood watches.

JP Smith, the City’s Mayco member for safety and security, said there were thousands of well-trained neighbourhood watch members in Cape Town who would be able to continue doing the good work they do every day in fighting crime.

“We have already seen criminals changing their modus operandi to take advantage of the lockdown.

“These watches would also be able to assist as credible messengers to encourage communities to comply with the regulations and stay indoors – something it has become clear that we do not have nearly enough enforcement resources to achieve without the help of civil society,” he said.

Mr Bam said neighbourhood watches had played an important role in deterring criminal activity.

“Their visibility deters criminals and they’ve been very successful in stopping crime and stopping people from being robbed. That is what we are missing. Now they have been removed and the criminals are the only ones who have the freedom of movement. I think under controlled conditions neighbourhood watches would be able to do a good job,” said Mr Bam.

He added that some people were patrolling and watching their streets in their areas from their homes.

“But the deterrent has been taken away and the government should reconsider that. Let the police and CPF make sure that there are conditions and rules under which the neighbourhood watches should operate in the area. There should also be conditions and safety precautions to stop the spread of the virus but if the police, army and other essential workers are allowed to be around, the neighbourhood watches can be empowered to do the same,” he said.

Mr Walbrugh said he was not against the proposal but said neighbourhood watches needed the necessary training to safeguard themselves and the community.

“Police are trying but they can’t be everywhere and can’t enforce stringent lockdown regulations. Watches can assist keeping schools safe, etc but should be trained if they are to help during the Covid-19 lockdown,” said Mr Walbrugh.

Steenberg police station commander, Colonel Jan Alexander, said he didn’t have any comment on the regulations regarding the neighbourhood watches but said getting people to stay in their homes had been difficult.

“We will never be able to stop all the people. They must go out and buy essentials. It’s impossible to stop people from going out but we are patrolling the areas,” he said.

Commenting on crime in the precinct, Colonel Alexander said all the categories of crime were under control.

“We are still concentrating on crimes and those that take priority, especially against women and children, so when those are reported we give it the necessary attention. Otherwise we operate as normal under the (restrictions) of the Covid-19 lockdown.”

Grassy Park police station commander, Colonel Dawood Laing, said there had been a drastic reduction in crime.

“This is due to the fact that there are less people on the roads, so obviously crime has become less.

“There have been a few theft out of motor vehicle cases because drug addicts know that there aren’t that many people on the streets to rob anymore so they find cars on the road and steal whatever they can out of the car.

“We have regular patrols but the problem is that we still have calls from residents to assist mentally challenged people and to take them to hospital, which does take a lot of our time and takes some of our vehicles out of circulation.”

Colonel Laing confirmed that there had been isolated shooting cases in Parkwood and Lotus River but said officers were trying their utmost to patrol and are even doing so on foot.

Commenting on the community’s adherence to the lockdown rules, Colonel Laing said it had been difficult to po-
lice.

“The community needs to take ownership of some of these things themselves. We can’t drive around the same streets and chase people into their houses but as soon as we leave they come back out. The parents allow their children to go out in the road and play soccer and other things, so that is a challenge and it needs to come to an end,” he said.

Commenting on the call for regulations to be changed to allow neighbourhood watches to operate, Colonel Laing said under normal circumstances the police could not do without them.

“The watches perform such an essential service because they are our eyes and ears and they form part of the partnership between police and the community.

“The problem is that we cannot endanger their lives because at the end of the day they are not covered by insurance or anything. Even though we would love them to work, we respect them too much to endanger their lives because
we want to keep them healthy. Lockdown will end and then we will need them again. We cannot lose any of our force multipliers,” he said.

Meanwhile the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre (DRMC) made a plea for accredited neighbourhood watches to join their volunteer database.

In a statement issued to the media, volunteers are called on to assist to promote physical distancing at shops, clinics, transport interchanges and to patrol school grounds to prevent vandalism.

Mr Smith said it was an opportunity to evolve the City’s relationship with neighbourhood watches to the next level and to demonstrate how versatile and proactive this important sector of community safety was.

He said members who availed themselves would be provided with the necessary protective equipment, permits and they would be properly briefed by the DRMC.

All accredited neighbourhood watches are invited to nominate 10 of their members for appointment as DRMC volunteers.

Neighbourhood watch co-ordinators, and not individual members, can communicate the names and contact details of the volunteers to Charl Viljoen by emailing charl.viljoen@capetown.gov.za who will arrange for the details to be submitted to the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre.

Once you have submitted the names, the DRMC will make contact with interested members over the next few weeks as and when the need arises. Until you have been contacted, briefed and issued a work permit by the DRMC, refrain from assuming any neighbourhood watch duties. Also note that this is a call for volunteers only and no remuneration is attached to this initiative.