Neighbourhood watches step outside again

Neighbourhood watch members pictured before lockdown.

Neighbourhood watches in the Steenberg police station precinct were happy to stretch their legs and resume patrols to keep the area safe after crime increased since the start of lockdown level 3.

Sergeant Wesley Twigg, spokesperson for Steenberg police, confirmed that neighbourhood watches were back on the beat.

“SAPS will be assisting them. There has been an increase in crime since the start of lockdown level 3 and police have increased visibility and are patrolling at gang hot spots.”

Deputy national commissioner for policing Lieutenant General Sehlahle Masemola announed last month that watches could patrol again under lockdown level 3.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz said they needed permits.

“It should be noted that SAPS have no competency to issue permits to neighbourhood watch members and should under no circumstances do so,” he said, adding that his department would only issue permits to members of accredited watches.

The Steenberg Community Police Forum (CPF) chairperson, Gavin Walbrugh, said the CPF had issued permits to a few watches who had requested them.

“As far as the CPF is concerned we feel it’s risky (to give out permits), but at the same time certain areas saw an increase in criminal activity due to the lack of visibility in the area.”

He said the CPF had issued the permits to the neighbourhood watches in line with the national SAPS directive, and, in turn, the neighbourhood watch chairperson would issue a permit to the individual accredited members.

“The permit, together with the patroller’s identity document, has to be produced on demand, failing which the member will be asked to return to his place of residence. The conditions are that strict social distancing must be adhered to and members should have full PPE (personal protective equipment) either supplied by the neighbourhood watch or the members to supply. The other condition is that the members do the voluntary patrols at their own risk as the CPF and neighbourhood watches cannot accept responsibility for patrollers contracting the virus and injury while out on patrol. They are encouraged to not make physical contact but rather to be the eyes and ears and report any crimes or suspicious activity to the police or other law enforcement agencies,” said Mr Walbrugh.

Grant Adams, chairperson of Allenby Neighbourhood Watch, said the regulations should have been eased under level 4 to allow them to patrol already as break-ins had increased since the lockdown started.

“But the members are happy to be able to serve the community again,” he said, adding that they had been given their permit.

“We are patrolling. In terms of the rules, only 20 members can patrol with strict social distancing, and we have limited our members to two per car.

“We cover from the corner of Stamen and Allenby Drive to Nectar into Flora Road and down into Stamen Road. We also patrol in Rockhill Way.”

Marvin Lombard, of Boundaries Neighbourhood Watch, said: “I am quite happy that it has happened because crime has really spiked in our area especially house break-ins.

“A lot of members who patrol really felt bad that we couldn’t go out because they wanted to make a difference in stopping crime in the area. We cover Retreat Main Road and Joe Marks Boulevard, as well as avenues between 1st and 7th.”

Enver Maneveld, chairperson of PHEW Neighbourhood Watch, which covers Punts Estate, Healthfield, Elfindale and Windsor Park, said they were not in “full swing yet”.

“Members are a bit fearful as the (virus) peak is hitting now. Our younger members are patrolling currently.”

Mr Maneveld also said crime had spiked since lockdown started in their usually quiet area.

However, their neighbourhood watch had not been idle and had been feeding the community, especially in Die Gatjie informal settlement, he said.

Mr Maneveld said it was a tough time for everyone and some homeowners were now out of work and did not have food.

He said the watch members were continuing the feeding scheme in their spare time with the help of private donors.

Although the patrols are not in full swing yet, Mr Maneveld encouraged people to join the neighbourhood watch or “just be the eyes and ears of the neighbourhood” and report crime on their WhatsApp group chat.