Fighting crime by the numbers

Date: 02 Mar 2007
The Vosloorus CPF faces many unusual challenges, including houses with no numbers and people who don't understand the judicial system, but it's not all doom and gloom Countless houses with no addresses, high numbers of cases opened and then withdrawn the next day and a lack of understanding of the law are some of the challenges facing Vosloorus Community Policing Forum (CPF). "The police spend a lot of time driving around the township searching for houses where suspects could be hiding," says CPF secretary Wiseman Langa. "Emergency services, such as paramedics, take too long trying to locate houses in order to reach victims of crime and patients. All this, Langa says, is not only time-consuming but also puts the lives of patients and crime victims in danger. Langa says the problem of houses with no addresses dates back to the early 1990s when the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party were engaged in a bloody fight. Although the war was mostly concentrated in the adjacent township of Thokoza, it spilled into the surrounding townships such as Katlehong and Vosloorus, with devastating consequences of bloodshed. Though it's about 10 years since the fighting stopped, Langa says many people in these townships have still not come to terms with the fact that the conflict is over - to such an extent that they are still reluctant to identify their houses. In the meantime, the CPF has approached the local municipality to help drive the campaign to number all the houses. As he explains, people need to understand that numbering their houses is not just for decoration, but can help the police and emergency services to locate them in times of urgent need. The CPF is also concerned about the high number of people opening cases and then withdrawing them, saying this is a major inconvenience to the staff at the client services centre, who are overloaded with work, including being inundated with crime calls. "It seems it's common for people, especially women, to open dockets of common assault just to scare their husbands or partners. "It's more common during or after weekends and sometimes I feel it would be better if there was a fine for withdrawing a case - just to discourage the complainants," Langa says. Even more worrying, Langa adds, are the frequent complaints the CPF gets from residents once suspects have been granted bail. "Some of the residents even threaten to take the law into their own hands by venting their anger on such suspects. "The reason is that they don't understand how the judicial system works. "People should understand that, in certain cases, suspects are entitled to bail as they are presumed innocent until proven guilty, depending on the circumstances of their alleged offences and arguments for bail presented in court," he explains. Despite these problems, the CPF leaders are adamant that it's not all doom and gloom in Vosloorus, as their efforts to help the police combat crime are bearing fruit. In January, the Vosloorus CPF leapfrogged from being the fourth best performing CPF to No 1 in Ekurhuleni. Langa, who has been involved with the CPF for over five years, attributes this achievement to the support they have had from locals, regular crime-awareness campaigns and special crime-fighting operations. "All our five sector forums bring positive reports about how residents actively participate in the sector meetings, where crime statistics, trends and hotspots are reported with a view to finding new ways of fighting crime. "Most of the crimes reported are social, emanating from the moral decadence in the community, so we also have the church ministers forum to try to help the CPF in its moral regeneration attempts," Langa says. In addition, the CPF has roped in Captain Ephraim Shezi to devote some of his time to work as the head of social crime prevention, with a view to leading the moral-regeneration crusade. Shezi works closely with youth groups such as the Spear Talent Search Organisation (Staso), a body for ex-convicts who relate their first-hand experience on the dangers of committing crime in the 23 schools of Vosloorus and during other public- awareness campaigns. A youth protection structure called Dumanis educates young people about HIV/Aids, teenage pregnancy and the danger of drugs and substance abuse. Station commissioner Director Max Masipa boasts that although serious and violent crimes are still a problem, they "only happen once in a blue moon". "And in fact, we don't have notorious criminals here. Most of the hardened criminals who have been sought for serious and violent crimes are languishing behind bars," says Masipa. The three men agree that the close working relationships with the community and local ward councillors have contributed greatly to the steady reduction in crime there over the past few years. By Lebogang Seale The Star 02/03/07