Turning schools into a safer space

Law enforcement school resource officers (SROs) have their hands full battling disorder, ill-discipline and trying to prevent crime at Cedar High School in Tafelsig.

Thirty-six law enforcement officers (SROs) have been deployed in pairs at 18 schools identified by the Western Cape Education Department as priority schools in need of intervention services.

Paid for by the City of Cape Town, two SROs, a man and woman, are deployed at each school from 8am until 3pm daily.

This year, the City’s law enforcement, Metro police and traffic services departments have joined the back-to-school fray by providing a number of services designed to help keep pupils safe.

The Plainsman caught up with SROs Lee-ann Adams and Brendon Permall at Cedar High School.

Before being deployed to Cedar High School, Ms Adams was a member of the City’s law enforcement’s stabilisation unit in Manenberg, where she dealt with gangsters and suspected criminals.

“It is completely different working with the pupils. You have to use a different approach to prevent them from doing crime,” she said.

Ms Adams said it was difficult to enforce the law, when pupils came from different backgrounds and where, often, their parents do not care.

“So often we hear ‘Wie is jy? My ma weet ek rook en sy het nie ’* probleem daarmee nie’.” (“Who are you? My mother knows I smoke, and she doesn’t have a problem with it.”)

Ms Adams said she cannot just shout at a pupil because before then the teacher and the principal may have already had words with the pupil.

“Each pupil is different, and I need to approach each situation differently,” she said.

Mr Permall said the most satisfying part of his job was to know that he had made a difference in at least one pupil’s life.

“They (the pupils) have two choices – a life of crime or life without it and I must show them how it would be without crime,” he said.

Mr Permall started his stint with law enforcement at the Rocklands school in 2015, where he cultivated relationships with the staff and pupils.

Last year, they were able to foil an incident of gang violence.

Principal David Charles said since the SROs’ deployment, they had seen a difference in discipline and respect among the pupils.

“(The SROs) have been able to build relationships, trust and inform staff of things going to happen,” he said.

The SROs arrived at the school months after parent Gilliano Smith, 34, who had been released from prison on Friday May 8, 2015, was shot and killed shortly before 8am, on the corner of Robin and Weltevreden roads in Rocklands, a few metres from the entrance to Cedar High School where his son was a Grade 8 pupil (“Six dead over four days in ’Plain shootings,” Plainsman May 13, 2015).

Mr Charles said since then staff had been in WhatsApp communication during school and had ensured that two-way radios are operational to alert them of possible trouble.

Tafelsig High School principal Ruschda O’Shea said while she was grateful for the deployment of the SROs, a lot more was expected and they needed more officers.

There are 1 079 pupils at the Tafelsig school, which has been plagued by gang violence but with the visible law enforcement officers, criminals were made to think twice.

She echoed the sentiments of JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, that school resource officers provided a valuable service.

Last year, SROs reported the arrest of two pupils at Cedar, another at Tafelsig; 75 units of drugs were confiscated at Cedar and a 104 units at Tafelsig; five weapons were taken from pupils at Cedar and seven at Tafelsig.

Six by-law contraventions were reported at Cedar and two at Tafelsig. Similarly, 13 scholar transport drivers were found contravening the National Road Traffic Act.

On the roads, the City’s transport enforcement unit focuses on whether public transport vehicles (including scholar transport) have operating licences, whether the vehicles are roadworthy, and whether the drivers of such vehicles are fit to be behind the steering wheel.

“SROs are tasked with the early identification of illegal activities and potential risks, patrolling the school grounds to nip criminal activity or anti-social behaviour in the bud, and helping to develop safe movement corridors with local security agencies in high-risk areas,” said Mr Smith.

Vehicles that do not have operating licences or that operate contrary to the conditions of their operating licences are impounded.

The unit also focuses on the overloading of vehicles and whether scholars are being transported in the back of goods compartments.

Scholar transport vehicles which are not roadworthy, are suspended and the driver is requested to make the necessary arrangements to have a replacement vehicle sent to continue the journey.

Mr Smith appealed to parents to check the bona fides of their children’s school transport operators and to make sure that they have the necessary permits and that their vehicles are safe.

“There are many safe, reliable operators but there are many others who wouldn’t think twice about placing lives at risk to make a quick buck,” he said.

“Apart from the focus on scholar transport, we also appeal to road users to be particularly cautious around school zones. It’s important to slow down, pay attention and to come to a complete stop at all stop signs and red traffic lights.

“Remember that at student safety patrols, pedestrians of all ages have the right of way,” said Mr Smith.

The law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. He said all drivers needed to recognise the special safety needs of pedestrians, especially children he said.