One up on slow cops

2015-06-02 09:25

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FRUSTRATED by slow police ­response times, Pietermaritzburg ­residents have taken matters into their own hands, using cellphones as their first line of defence.

Since last year, more and more ­residents in Pietermaritzburg’s ­suburbs have joined together to form groups on chat services like WhatsApp to alert each other to criminal activity in their area.

Chat groups range from 10 to 100 people, depending on the scale of the area. Some have groups only for their street, while others have them for the entire ­suburb.

According to group administrators, the trend has resulted in a drop in crime in their areas as residents alert others of suspicious activity and respond to incidents around them.

The administrator for two groups in the Prestbury area, Russell George, said it is the “most effective system”.

“We have now moved over to two-way-radios as well and we are making citizens’ arrests almost every week,” George said.

Besides the group specifically for crime, George runs a community ­empowerment group in which users can ask for assistance on other problems they have, like home maintenance, for ­example.

Gaynor Stander, who runs a small group for her neighbours in Alan Ford Close in Lincoln Meade, said that in addition to a drop in crime, the initiative also creates a sense of community.

“Before the group [was formed] ­nobody knew who their neighbours were. Now we are all friends and we help each other out with other things as well,” Stander said.

The administrator of two groups in the Cleland, Bellevue and Hayfields areas, Christine Maskell, said the groups sprang up after residents grew tired of slow police response times but now they are able to assist the police in ­apprehending suspects.

“I think we all need to work together as a community. There is strength in numbers,” Maskell said.

Maskell said her group and others follow a strict set of rules which do not allow political, religious and racial messages.

“Only things that are helpful are ­accepted,” she said.

Senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) Johan Burger said communities all around the ­country are making use of “communication technologies” like WhatsApp to organise themselves into ­crime-fighting networks.

“We have become a much more violent and dangerous society and this is why we see people turning to themselves to fill the gaps between our criminal justice system and the high levels of crime in the country,” Burger said

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  police

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