The new Community Safety Act, which comes into effect in June, is aimed at bringing about the accreditation and professionalisation of neighbourhood watches and regular reporting of crime statistics by the provincial police commissioner.
Ewald Botha, spokesperson for Community Safety MEC Dan Plato, said the Community Safety Act is the first of its kind for any province in the country. He added that it is also the first time that neighbourhood watches are provided for in any legislation.
“This will help to increase safety in the province through targeted interventions based on sound information and operations, driven by the entire safety fraternity,” he said.
“The accreditation and professionalisation of the neighbourhood watches envisaged in the Community Safety Act will help standardise the activities of, reporting by, and support provided to the dedicated volunteers who constitute our neighbourhood watches and who selflessly stand in service of their communities to help make them safer through visible crime deterrence activities.”
Mr Botha said provinces have no operational control over the police.
“This department is defining police oversight as contemplated in the Constitution of the Republic and proving the impact that proper oversight can have,” he said.
Mr Botha said the legislation was passed in 2013 and different sections have been promulgated since then.
The final set of regulations will be printed in the Government Gazette by the end of June and will see the act being implemented in its entirety.
“The Office of the Western Cape Police Ombudsman, for instance, has been fully established for more than a year and has shown remarkable success in investigating police inefficiencies and the breakdown between communities and police in the province.”
Mr Plato explained that the final set of regulations makes provision for the regulated monitoring, oversight and assessment of policing, accreditation and the support of neighbourhood watch groups. It includes a database of partnerships with community organisations including security service providers and regular reporting on crime statistics by the provincial police commissioner and the executive head of the municipal police.
“Our safety initiatives and partnerships stress the importance of a whole-of-society approach to help improve safety in communities and that is why we need to work with our communities and support established entities such as our neighbourhood watches,” he said.
Abie Isaacs, chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum said there are concerns about the act, among them that there will be two different structures operating in Mitchell’s Plain.
“It will simply mean that there will be two structures operating in Mitchell’s Plain that represent the aspirations of the community when it comes to crime prevention. Our concern is that there will be the CPF and the neighbourhood watch, whereas they currently fall under the CPF structure.
“However, in terms of the national mandate there should only be one structure that should partner with police, in this case it is the CPF.
“It concerns me that, according to the act, neighbourhood watches would run like a security business as they have to register with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Author-ity,” he said.
He added that currently screening of members is done by SAPS but according to the act it will be done by the directorate of the Community Safety, specifically risk management.
Mr Isaacs said he felt the act was not properly thought through and that the act allowed for neighbourhood watches to apply for blue lights, which are usually reserved for SAPS.
“This will confuse residents. What will happen in emergencies? The blue light is meant for SAPS’ use and they are responsible for crime,” he said.
Former Mitchell’s Plain CPF cluster chairperson Michael Jacobs said according to the act, while it is not compulsory for members of the neighbourhood watch to register with the CPF they must register with the Department of Community Safety.
“At first when we were informed about the act we were not in support of it. Well, it’s there now so members of the structure need to work creatively and not allow government to take their leadership or admin and independence away from them,” he said.
“I urge our neighbourhood watches to work with us through this transition period towards professionalisation,” said Mr Plato. “The final regulations will be based on the input received and incorporated on the draft regulations – this process closed on 15 February 2016.
“We will continue to partner with the SAPS in the province. Though national government has listened to our call for the reinstatement of the specialised SAPS units – announcing gun and drug units to combat the scourge of drugs and gangs in our communities – we still believe it is necessary to equip and empower the SAPS so that visible policing efforts can be increased,” said Mr Plato.
* Daniel Davids, chairman of the Mitchell’s Plain Neighbourhood Watch was not available for comment before this edition went to print.