‘A Team’ looks for missing kids

Mitchell’s Plain community police cluster board partners and volunteers were called to help look for a Mandalay teenager less than three days after discussing a united approach to finding missing children.

The discussion took place at Lentegeur police station on Wednesday July 4 and Nava Iyema Mobe, 14, from Mandalay was reported missing at midnight on Saturday July 7.

She was located almost a day later at Somerset Hospital, at about 9.30pm.

According to the Pink Ladies flyer, Nava had last been seen in Mandalay on Saturday July 7, at about 7pm.

The police cluster includes Grassy Park, Steenberg, Philippi, Mitchell’s Plain, Strandfontein, Lansdowne, Lentegeur and Athlone police stations.

The discussion followed volunteers finding the body of Stacey Adams, 6, on Sunday June 24.

Board chairperson Lucinda Evans wrote on Facebook that they had gathered 80 volunteers on Saturday July 7, which was 20 people short of their target to have 100 volunteers within an hour of the child rapid response unit (CRRU) being activated by the local station commander.

The CRRU consists of community police forum (CPF) volunteers and associates, who have been screened and trained in Level 1 First Aid, crime scene management, and search and rescue protocol.

Ms Evans said Wednesday’s meeting was about “a collective, looking at our response times and looking at supporting our fellow police stations in our cluster”.

The meeting included a presentation by Mitchell’s Plain community police forum (CPF) secretary Lynn Phillips, who also co-ordinates the CRRU for Mitchell’s Plain.

She explained the standard operating procedures (SOP), with regards to reporting a missing person to SAPS.

“Rather cancel the search immediately when the person is found but that first hour is critical in finding a body or person,” she said.

Ms Evans said the local CPF would take the lead and within an hour, 100 associates and partners, like Hand off our Children (HOOC) in Mitchell’s Plain, the Alcardo Andrews Foundation in Hanover Park, Rene Roman Search and Rescue squad in Lavender Hill and Mitchell’s Plain Crisis Forum, would report to the local police station, from where they would move to the spot where the person was last seen.

The Plainsman met with Ms Phillips and CRRU members Charmaine Marhota, from Tafelsig West, and Sakienah Daniels, CPF member responsible for the needs of women and children, at Mitchell’s Plain police station on Friday July 6, where they explained the procedure, their anxeity around of searching for a child, finding the child’s body or reuniting the child with his or her family, and cold cases.

They also deal with cases involving missing children; rebellious teenagers who run away and the elderly and the mentally ill who wander off.

Ms Phillips said the CRRU was born two years after, the Bambanani Against Crime initiative was launched in 2002 by then Department of Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane.

It was aimed at fighting crime by involving ordinary people as volunteers.

Back then volunteers were deployed to guard schools and patrol streets during the day and night.

She said the minute the person is reported missing, the CRRU would be called to be on stand-by. Once the police have done their initial investigation, the station commander would alert the CPF chairperson, who then activates the volunteers.

Ms Phillips said they report to the last place where the person was seen.

“I talk to children, I listen to what people say and you raise your hand when something is found,” she said.

She said many of the members would follow their instincts and be observant of their surroundings.

Ms Phillips said volunteers needed to know who they were working with because, in their experience, the perpetrator could be among them.

Ms Phillips said the Mitchell’s Plain unit had been called “sniffer dogs” for their ability to find children. She said volunteers must be strong mentally, physically and emotionally in be in control at all times, securing the crime scene the minute evidence or body was found.

“The last place where the person was seen is searched thoroughly, five houses to the right, left and front are scrutinised,” she said.

Ms Phillips said the CRRU has been successful in picking up children from the street, taking them to the police station and holding their parents responsible for their care.

She said in many cases parents were in denial and did not want to face up to being involved with the wrong partner, the fact that their children were on drugs or were members of a
gang.

“Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. You have to be assertive in knowing when your child needs help,” she said.

Crime fighter and volunteer Charmaine Mahota, from Tafelsig West, said she had a passion for keeping her community safe.

She said the community’s mindset had to change.

“I see how parents collect the social grant and do not spend a single cent on that child or children. They use it to feed their drug fix,” she said.

“They go immediately to the drug den or shebeen, while the child is barefoot and has nothing to eat,” she said.

Ms Mahota said she has a close family and people who fight crime alongside her.

“Ours is a close family and that is what I want for other families,” she said.

She said debriefing sessions were critical for her to find closure.

“I talk about my experiences,” she said.

Sakienah Daniels, Mitchell’s Plain CPF member looking after the needs of women and children and CRRU volunteer, said children needed to be protected from the “monsters and demons” in the community.

“When I get to a crime scene, I think that could have been my child,” she said.