“Public trust is essential to public safety“
– Martin O’Malley
The Institute for Race Relations report (I.R.R.) titled “Winning the War on Crime in South Africa: A New Approach Community Policing” was released in September 2016. This informative report, on the whole, confirms what most South Africans already know i.e. that large segments of the population have little faith in the state’s ability to decrease the crime rate. As such, the citizens of our country are required to source and implement their own measures to ensure their safety and consequently contribute to decreasing the current crime rate. The report looks at three alternative forms of self-protection currently in use, namely:
- Private security
- Neighbourhood watch
The crime statistic referred to, in the report, indicate that aggravated robbery (2014/15) for residential property is up 124% and for business property, it is up 249% from 2003. Truck hi-jacking’s are also up by 30%. This, along with other increases in crime, has resulted in the private security industry performing those tasks / duties for which the South African Police Services (SAPS) were previously responsible. The majority of the population is generally dissatisfied with the services of the SAPS, considering them inefficient, lazy, and corrupt, under resourced and working in co-operating with criminals. The consequence of this is that crimes are not being reported to the SAPS (due to the perception that the SAPS cannot or will not do anything) resulting in skewed statistics and an inability to properly protect the citizens of the country. The report further indicates that in 2009, 89% of SAPS employees believed that the police were corrupt which, in itself, is a worrying fact. There have been a number of strategies and ideas recommended to reform the SAPS which, to date, show little or no evidence of being implemented. This, along with lower training standards, lack of experience and lack of expertise has led to wasted resources, incompetence and corruption at top levels within the SAPS, resulting in low quality of work and low level of discipline. The NPA, according to the report, confirms that (as at 2014) only 17% of arrests made lead to convictions. As a direct consequence of the above, there are an ever-increasing number of private security company’s and security officers registered to help control crime in our country. However, the private security industry has its own set of problems i.e. low wages and non-compliance of “fly-by-night” security service providers. It is also an expensive solution to the ever-increasing crime problem within communities.
The report goes on to identify another form of self-protection that takes place, especially in the townships i.e. mob justice / vigilantism. Citizens are clearly fed-up with the state of crime in the country and have, due to SAPS inefficiency, resorted to taking things into their own hands in order to protect themselves, their families, their belongings and their communities. These types of actions, considered criminal by our legal system, can lead to falsely identifying innocent parties along with traumatising children and communities with the violence generally associated with mob justice. However, the statistics for such crimes are understated because the SAPS generally treat them as “normal” crime. Mob justice is a desperate attempt by desperate communities to restore a perception of law and order. It is as a direct result of the perceived failings of the SAPS. An example, made reference too in great detail in the IRR report, is the situation on the Cape Flats from 2012 to 2014 with 78 suspects (as identified by vigilantes) burned / beaten to death. The report further notes that mob justice / vigilantism is not an acceptable crime prevention tactic but it does re-iterate the need for a strong police force
The final self-protection mechanism detailed in the I.R.R report is that of community policing. The report indicates that, in the USA, neighbourhood watches are the single largest crime prevention activity in the nation. It further reports on a 2008 meta-analysis study from the UK where, over a period of 4 decades in four different English-speaking communities, the neighbourhood watch programmes showed a reduction in crime by between 16 – 26%. The overriding problem with such programmes is there inability to sustain the interest of the volunteers. Once the crime issue is under control in a neighbourhood, a sense of complacency and apathy develops, resulting in a decline in participation in the programme that may result in a re-occurrence of crime in the neighbourhood.
In the South African context neighbourhood watches includes farm watches and, given the high rate of farm murders with South Africa, these are essential to the effective policing of farming communities. The report refers to the great strides that AfriForum have made with respect to community policing / neighbourhood watches. Their focus on community safety through the establishment of solid working relationships between communities, the SAPS and private security, all operating within the law, has seen a marked improvement in crime statistics for the areas where they operate. Through their efficient implementation of best practices and proper training (i.e. radio, basic first aid, reaction, preservation of crime scenes etc.), they are able to assist communities to re-enforce safety and security within their area of operation. The report makes specific reference to a successful coalition between township law & order and a local community.
Although none of the above alternatives negate the need for a solid and efficient police force, they do offer some means for communities to start working together in an attempt to curb crime in their area and to re-establish law and order within their communities.
Image Credit: Author