Keeping an eye on the city of choice

2008-09-18 00:00

Safe City would like to thank the Edendale resident who commented on the Safe City sms programme and the 10111 number, for expressing his or her concerns about the programme and about crime. It is only through feedback and interactions with our community that projects like ours can succeed.

We would like to comment on and clarify a number of the issues raised in the article.

Safe City is a non-profit organisation — we are not the police

It is critical to understand that 083 767 safe is not an emergency number. It is to be used to report suspicious behaviour. If there is any sense of immediate danger then the police are the first port of call. Either call the local police station or 10111.

The Safe City sms programme was developed to complement the closed-circuit television monitoring programme that has been operating in the city for the past six years. Since installation of the cameras, the number of incidents of crime in the city has reduced with the co-operation of the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority. The cameras are the “eyes” of the city. When necessary the police are alerted and take appropriate action. (Safe City has a police captain based at the centre so the response time is excellent.) The sms programme is intended to strengthen the surveillance activity in the city and surrounds by involving the community.

Sender’s anonymity

It is essential to the effectiveness of the programme that we have the cellphone number of the sender as we may need to ask for more information on the reported incident. We do not want hoax calls and we are looking for accountability in our communities. It is not in the interests of the project to reveal the identity of our sources.

Message length

We can accommodate any length or size message. Most cellphones can accommodate up to four full-size text messages.

A cost-effective programme

The sms programme is designed to be cost-effective to ensure its long-term sustainability. Toll-free numbers are subject to a high level of abuse, while those for which normal costs apply receive fewer hoax calls. We think it is appropriate that the normal cellphone rates apply to the cost of the sms. We believe the cost involved for each individual is nominal.

Names of people

We are not expecting citizens to find out the names of the people they are reporting, although it is helpful. Descriptive details are fine. In an emergency, a call to the police should be the first call you make.

With regards to informants

testifying in court

We do not require the sender to testify in any court case. We are only requesting that the sender send us information if he or she thinks there is a possibility of a crime being committed. In a case of drunken driving or drug dealing, the SAPS officer who arrests the driver or dealer will become the complainant on behalf of the state.

On 10111

It is not for Safe City to comment on the effectiveness of the 10111 call centre in Pietermaritzburg. That is an issue for the SAPS. However, we understand that of the up to 500 calls received in a 12-hour shift, 70% are from youngsters (six to 12 years) who are making prank calls. A further 10% are false complaints which the police have to investigate but which waste valuable man hours and often endanger SAPS members’ lives. It is our responsibility not to abuse the system that has been put in place to help us. Please report such behaviour and you can use the sms programme to do so.

CCTV in residential areas

The placement of CCTV cameras in residential areas must be approached with extreme caution. Crime in residential areas happens mostly indoors and can therefore not be detected by CCTV. Poorly lit areas also severely hamper detection unless expensive infrared lighting is used to assist the camera. The Safe City project is funded by public funds and therefore concentrated on public areas.

CCTV in the Greater Edendale area

Meetings are under way with the Msunduzi Municipality and greater Edendale developers regarding the future economic development in Edendale and the possibility of cameras being erected in the area.

Safe City stand at the Garden and Leisure Show

Safe City will be promoting the sms number at the Garden and Leisure Show which takes place at the Royal Showgrounds from October 3 to October 5. Together we are stronger. We can all contribute to making this a safer city — our city of choice.

• Inquiries: 033 345 2507 or www. thewitness.co.za/?safecity

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