Review, challenges and responses, May 2006
Community policing in South Africa did not grow out of a vacuum, let alone start from a clean slate with the SAPS ACT of 1995 promulgating a new policing dispensation in South Africa. One can take the onion peel example to look at a context evolving from a fully professional 1st world standard of policing in the pre-Apartheid era, with a militarised type of policing, to what we have today where the community plays an active role in partnership with the SAPS delivering a service, rather than providing the fist of the law.
Even this is not saying enough as little is indicated about the dialectics of change as one era never presents a clean break from a preceding one. Nor can future evolution based on the SAPS Act 1995 by definition prefigure a fully democratic type of security service guided by the needs of the community, by the community.
Our main primary asset in the East London Community Policing Forum is the human resource made available by community activists who have accumulated experiences accumulated by diverse sectors of the community from pre-Apartheid times, through the negotiations period to where we are today. With the establishment of the Quigney Community Policing Forum we brought together the old neighbourhood watch, the Ratepayers Association, the SANCO Marshal structures and members from the main political parties, namely the DA through its Ward Councillor Avis Rens, and direct participation from the Branch Executive of the ANC. We have remained in the loop of developments commencing with the functioning of these various structures through the period of transition guided by the National Peace Accord, to the creative participation of community activists after the 1994 First Democratic Elections. Some of these were active in the Peace Committees of the National Peace Accord of 1991, others were serving in legal advice offices, some had community policing backgrounds in Area and Street Committees during township unrest since the mid 1980’s, and yet others have backgrounds in serving in the old Neighbourhood Watches organized by the Commandos of the SADF.
Community policing in South Africa has a local component that has transformed and interlaced with the formal Community Policing philosophy and practice, which was introduced into South Africa by aid agencies of western governments. In the Eastern Cape the role of the Commonwealth Mission to South Africa in retraining of township activists in community policing during the transitional years has been of inestimable importance. Similarly the experience of experienced police officers from countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have left an indelible mark on the practice of community policing country wide as well as in East London.
It would not be far off the mark to say that the development of Community Policing in South Africa cut teeth during the struggle years, and matured with the blending in of community policing experiences from donor countries which maintained and developed standards to come to grips with the violent crime situation which only properly became visible once the new democratic government took office.
Community Policing SAPS East London
In 1995 the South African Police Service Act was promulgated making it mandatory that every SAPS Station set up a Community Policing Forum. SAPS East London (Fleet Street) initiated its Community Policing Forum in 1999. Our first Community Policing Officer Inspector Nxafani set pioneering standards and instinctively focused on neighbourhood units as the first Sub-forums of the EL CPF. His creative instinct in establishing the first interim committees was in no small measure drawn from his POPCRU.
The Sub-forums set up showed distinct neighbourhood characteristics amplifying both the merits and the flaws in activating the philosophy of community policing. Scenery Park, Needs Camp and the Quigney and at a later date Southernwood hosted Sub-forums with varying degrees of success. In a number of areas we experienced the first hurdle to be overcome by keeping the community policing structure out of the clutches of local politicians. In Scenery Park the South African National Civics Organization, aligned to the ANC came to dominate and swallow up the local Sub-forum, which no longer exists.
In Needs Camp a single issue kept the Sub-forum ticking over. Setting up of an EU funded satellite station was subject to negotiations and over stated expectations of the Needs Camp Community. While the community rallied with great enthusiasm eager to get the satellite station up and running, SAPS had to slow down the pace in order to properly equip and staff the satellite station. The level of community participation in Needs Camp is impressive and at the drop of a hat the community rallies in large numbers to respond to calls from the Sector Manager or to random crime indents. Remarkable about Needs Camp is the enthusiasm and quality of a youth group that has formed the backbone of the East London Community Policing Youth Desk.
The Quigney is characterized by being the prime beachfront area of East London with a previously staid local community made up mainly of white middle class residents living in cottages or retirement centres. Since the transition years there has been rapid transformation, as the Quigney became an attractive place for a proliferation of nightclubs, pools bars and discos. It became a transit point for many who after the revocation of the group areas act took up their residence in the Quigney before moving to other places in better suited suburbs or the large cities to take up government offices and civil service jobs. More recently the Quigney is undergoing its more recent transformation in becoming a favourite place for the many students choosing residence in the Quigney.
Given these complexities and the availability of a large number of community activities the Quigney Sub-forum exemplified itself in the transformation and reconciliation process of community building. It has filled a void in community organization and become many things in one, but mainly concerned about crime and crime prevention in partnership with the Ward Committee, the Buffalo City Development Agency, retirement centres, businesses, and above all regular participation from residents.
The Station Commissioner has taken pains to cultivate a best practices approach between the Sub-forums coordinated at the level of the East London Community Policing Forum. The East London CPF Committee meets once every fortnight to consider programme proposals from the Sub-forums and Sub-structures such as from the Youth Desk and the highly active desk of the Social Crime Prevention Officer, Captain Ndlela. Because these meetings are regular and kept business like they have become highly productive. Adding to the professionalism of the EL CPF meetings is the attendance by the Station Commissioner and his core staff. At these meetings differences in levels of achievements at the neighbourhood level can be ironed out and special attention given to coax weaker areas to action.
Modus operandi of the East London CPF
If we look at the general picture since the East London Community Policing was established with its arsenal of neighbourhood level sub-structures in the late 1990s, there is a clear watershed to be seen in the transforming of the Sub-forums into Sector Crime Forums. Often the role of a Sub-forum was indistinct and all too often they became bedevilled by either political interferences or personality clashes. Sometimes these problems became so fraught with tensions that entire neighbourhoods fell out of the picture because putting life back into collapsed sub-structures is never an easy thing to do.
However, the implementation of Sector Policing made a very significant difference overall in amplifying the strengths of the stronger Sub-forums, and ameliorating the weaknesses of the faltering Sub-forums. We are finding a new breed of SAPS Officers getting the knack as community organizers and not afraid to roll up the sleeves and be part of community initiatives designed and driven by the local Sector Crime Forums. Often SAPS Officers take the initiative to give form and direction to community activity. The direct benfit of this home growen cooperation model is that such actions always are measureable by results and make a palpable difference in the safety and comfort of the neighbourhoods.
Given the shared practices there are the following common features in the functioning of all Sectors:
1. Each Sector is a distinct neighbourhood and easily managed for mobilizing stakeholders in local Sector Crime Forums.
2. Sector Managers meet with a regular group of residents to keep a finger on the pulse keeping abreast community reporting and experience of crime. In the case of the Quigney these meetings are held once a week.
3. At these meetings proactive measures can be planned for focused community patrols at problem places like schools, or mobilizing groups of stakeholders to address problems they are experiencing or which they are causing.
4. Patrol Teams made up of community volunteers are active in two areas in particular, namely Needs Camp and the Quigney. In other areas such as Greenfields and Westbank there is involvement by SAPS Reservists managed directly at the Station Level. There is also a Forum for rural areas which functions loosely in conjunction with the EL CPF.
5. From the East London CPF the work of the Youth Desk and Social Crime Prevention Officer cross cuts into all Sectors at once. We have an interesting variety of crime prevention approaches which are human concern and rights based, such as stimulating a gardening culture in rural areas, youth sports clubs, and firming up of informal employment opportunities such as car parking attendants.
6. In a number of neighbourhoods there are regular problems around taverns, pools bars and night spots in general for which specific Patrol Teams have been established to assist in compliance with opening and closing hours as well as keeping order outside and between premises of such liquor outlets. At the same time in Needs Camp and the Quigney all nightclub owners are convened for a regular Tavern Forum meeting once a month.
The lack of an enabling budget attached to the Constitutional requirement for setting up of Community Policing Forums has been a rancorous question at most gatherings under the banner of Community Policing. Full participation and required levels of dedication of community activists to keep involved often goes well beyond their means. This is particularly the case in the poorer areas such as Needs Camp.
At the same time supporting NGOs are dropping off leaving a huge gap in bridging practical experience with research and development work. This problem has often been discussed at Area Board level as a lack of a clear succession plan and the need to revisit the governance framework of establishing and keeping Community Policing Forums up and running.
Lack of resources specified for Community Policing at the Station level is also a disabling factor. Mostly the precinct of a Station is extensive and in order to ensure participation of community members from all areas Station Commissioners have to make available transport. This is a drag on police resources and especially as having vehicles ready to respond to crime are held up transporting community members of EL CPF meetings. Much depends on the dedication of Station Commissioners to Community Policing.
While we in the East London Community Policing Forum are never in need of transport and logistic support from the Station in making our meetings and events a success, this is merely coincidental in that the Quigney is close to the EL Fleet Street Station. But with many other areas distances are significant and SAPS either provides transport of they are left without the voice of these far-off communities. On the operational side there often are problems in that there is a shortage of vehicles to convey community members to CPF meetings as the first need is to respond to calls from crime reporting members of the community. The shortage of transport is the number one reason why residents perceive “poor performance” by the SAPS. This reflects negatively on the image and status of the Community Policing Forum.
Some end notes
Much of our deliberations at the East London Community Policing Forum consider crime statistics, the impact we are having in eradicating crime and proactive measures that need to be taken for preventing crime. When these are considered generally speaking we feel rewarded knowing that our efforts are not in vain and have impact. Also growing business confidence and rising property values in the urban areas gives great satisfaction in that our efforts are also appreciated and rewarded by business interests at large. Stakeholders are prepared to contribute resources into our efforts.
Something that does not show up readily on a statistical picture is more of an intangible nature. When the community at large has a feeling that they are actively involved in a common project in fighting crime, they take ownership of their neighbourhoods and speak with a sense of pride about where they live. In this way effective community policing has a marked positive impact on local governance.
However, the greatest intangible asset developed through effective community policing is greatly improved attitudes between community and the police. Whereas before there was a stand off and even suspicion of the police, with the ever presence and availability of a Sector Manager who is readily accessible to the community a gradual change resulting in a ground shift in attitudes has become palpable.
30th May 2006