Protecting their turf

2008-02-04 00:00

“We don’t live in a horrible area,” Lincoln Meade neighbourhood watch chairman Iain Roberts says, “but we’re trying to look after it.”

Crime in the southern Pietermaritzburg suburb has been on the decline since August last year, when about 20 concerned residents began walking the streets in the early hours of the morning. From roughly 10 to 12 break-ins a week in early 2006, the area now experiences no more than one a week, and that’s only every so often.

“My wife and I were complaining a lot about crime,” Roberts says. “We have family in Australia, but we didn’t want to leave this beautiful country. I saw an article about neighbourhood watch programmes in Johannesburg and Cape Town and decided that it was about time we stopped complaining, and actually did something about it.”

It was one morning, when his wife was leaving home, that Roberts knew he had to act. “She saw these thieves running down the road and so we contacted some off-duty police, who caught them,” he says. “The thieves had just been released from jail, which really irritated me. I knew then what I had to do.”

He went back to the article he had read, which explained how to start a neighbourhood watch. It simply entailed contacting the area’s sector policing forum inspector, which he did the very next morning. “I phoned inspector Shaun Francis at the Alexandra Police Station to set up a meeting,” he said.

The phone call met with an appreciative response from Francis. “There had been a slight increase in crime in Lincoln Meade early last year,” the inspector says. “It had become the responsibility of the sector policing forum in Lincoln Meade to improve the situation and so, together with Iain Roberts, we proposed that the neighbourhood watch should be initiated.”

They then set about informing Lincoln Meade’s residents through word of mouth and the distribution of pamphlets. “It took a while before we got enough of a response to start the programme,” Francis says. “Eventually, on May 28, 2007, we formed the neighbourhood watch with Iain as the chairman, Wayne Janneker as the secretary and a few others as team leaders.”

Janneker recalls the process of getting members. “It took a lot of hard work and handing out of pamphlets to get any attention but by the next meeting we had increased the number of people involved from eight to 20.”

Happy with the few who had joined, the neighbourhood watch had its first patrol in August. “Because of the small number of members, we had to start a rotating duty list with about five members making up a team,” Janneker says.

Roberts is very concerned at the lack of interest shown by the community. “The residents of Lincoln Meade know we are out there. They just choose to ignore us,” he says. “A lot of them come to the monthly meetings at Alexandra Road Police Station. They complain about the cops being ineffective and about how bad crime is in the area, but none of them come patrolling.

“What’s more, there are a lot of cops who live here, including quite a senior member, but none of them is involved.”

However, Roberts is pleased with the response teams. “The police have been fantastic with their response to our calls for assistance. They arrived three minutes after we phoned them the other night when we caught a robber. They are very quick, but we do feel they could do a little more.”

Francis said he is aware of Roberts’s concern and added that the neighbourhood watch has direct contact with the sector policing head, who ensures a quick response. “We have also increased our patrols in the area and the neighbourhood watch members have their phone numbers.”

“All we want from the resident police members is to show us the best methods for patrolling and for them to give us their numbers in case of an emergency,” Roberts says.

It hasn’t all gone as smoothly as they would have hoped. The neighbourhood watch committee struggled to get members patrolling through the December holidays, which affected the crime. “Our team was the only one who continued patrolling throughout the holidays,” Roberts says. “If we had more people participating, it would definitely have helped.”

Francis says there was a need for some change in 2008. “After many patrols, crime decreased, but the rate started going up again in December. New strategies were implemented in January and it resulted in the arrest of a suspect and the recovery of household items that had been stolen about five minutes before.”

The arrest, which was reported in The Witness, has helped attract more members. “As a team, we are sacrificing our time to make this a better place and the incident really motivated us,” Roberts says.

It has been a good experience for the residents involved and has helped them understand more about crime and ways of being part of the solution. Roberts says he has learnt some serious lessons. “What we have learnt over the past six months is that people are not alert. We also feel that the people in the community doesn’t seem to care for each other — they really should.”

Some tips from Lincoln meade

• Look out for suspicious cars, especially if they have no number plates and if they are idling.

• Simplexes are the most dangerous places to live because you feel safer and let your guard down. Check the perimeter of the place and if the wall looks like it has a weak spot, ensure it is fixed immediately.

• Set up a neighbourhood watch in your area if there is not one already. Simply contact your sector policing forum inspector at your local police station.

• When you suspect something is wrong turn on a light — it deters any thief.

• Inquire at your police station about neighborhood watches and get involved.

• For more information about the Lincoln Meade Neighborhood Watch programme phone 082 530 9896, e-mail lincolnmeade@ratesa.co.za or go to www.lincolnmeade.co.za

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