Suburbanites take their streets back

2013-12-19 00:00

STREET by street, suburb by suburb, Durban residents are reclaiming their neighbourhoods in a fight back against crime and filth.

But now middle-class communities are taking it a step further by erecting guard huts — and security firms operating the service are adamant that it works.

A spot investigation by The Witness showed that Hillcrest, Kloof, the Bluff, Berea and Durban North — among the 10 worst areas for burglary in Durban according to the SAPS 2012/13 crime statistics — have erected at least 200 guard huts manned 24 hours a day at a cost of about R20 000 each.

The Witness has previously reported how Glenwood and Kloof communities have rallied together through the of use of social networks, free messaging services and community patrols while businesses in the city centre, Umhlanga Rocks and Florida Road are one of many areas that have implemented Urban Improvement Precincts (UIP) that pay an additional monthly rate. This pays to keep the streets clean, public gardens maintained, for security and a structure that can demand council delivers on its mandate such as kerb, street and light maintenance.

But security experts believe while extra security in neighbourhoods will prevent crime, it also displaces the crime and, if not inclusive, will lead to greater inequality across the socio-economic classes with the poor bearing the greatest consequence.

Professor Robert Peacock, who heads the criminology department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, agrees that a community-based approach to crime is effective but warns that residents my alienate themselves behind high walls.

“Street monitoring might be good for property crimes but it is the poor who ultimately pick up the greatest burden and this perpetuates the inequality existant in our society. Target hardening — the process of reclaiming neighbourhoods — such as the Save Our Berea Campaign [based in Glenwood], are effective but it can lead to criminal displacement or even lead to criminals changing their modus operandi.”

And Brian Wright, who is largely accredited with cleaning up Umhlanga’s coastal business precinct and Florida Road through the implementation of Special Rating Areas, said urban regeneration works but it must be inclusive.

“Metropolitans worldwide have become the economic catalysts for regions globally. To have a liveable city we must be competitive. We wanted to create a place where people could work and play and live through a holitistic approach. Armed security on street corners does not provide this comfort. There must also be a concerted effort to help neighbouring communities set up their own community-based structures to deal with the displacement of crime,” said Wright.

But Blue Security managing director Darryn le Grange said residents see value in the “human factor” and that posting uniformed security personnel at guard huts “contributes towards higher visibility community policing”.

“Guard huts add an additional layer to the overall security of an area in conjunction with armed reaction patrols and reduce the overall risk profile of an area,” said Le Grange.

Acting head of ADT Security for the East Coast region Ivan Govender said there has been a “significant decrease in violent crimes” where they operate their 106 huts.

Mike Meyers of Dawncliffe Westville Community Watch said five years ago the area decreased its number of guard huts due to the decrease in crime.

“After three years without the guard huts we saw an increase in crime and decided to put them [the huts] back. At one stage there were 26 incidents in 14 days and this caused a major upset in Dawncliffe,” said Meyers.

Durban North councillor Heinz de Boer said there has been a significant increase in guard huts because “it has proven to be effective in combating crime”.

“They’ve increased by at least a third over the last five years.”

Kloof ward councillor Rick Crouch said communities are also calling for boom gates that block off roads, but it is not allowed in the city.

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