Who you gonna call?

2014-04-19 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’S middle-class residents are turning their backs on the police 10111 system, with at least 70% now calling community or security call centres first in emergencies.

Weekend Witness traced a dozen emergencies this month back to the first call placed by victims or witnesses, and in 10 of 12 cases the resident chose to contact their neighbourhood watch duty line, SA CAN, or an armed response company, and allowed them to contact SAPS or paramedics.

Weekend Witness has also established that the SAPS 10111 call centre for greater Durban is currently operating from “temporary premises”.

And the residents who call them most — neighbourhood watch operators — report that one in every four calls to 10111 are either not answered, dropped, or “mishandled”.

Former policewoman Karen Buxton, of the Waterfall 3 neighbourhood watch, said she had to call 10111 eight times to report a violent domestic disturbance this month, and that “when I finally got through, I had to repeatedly ask the woman to turn the music down to hear me — it sounded like a party in there”.

DA national police spokesperson Dianne Kohler-Barnard, who lives in Morningside, Durban, declared “I will never call 10111”.

Last year, the South African Reconciliation Barometer recorded a dramatic 12,3% drop in confidence in the police.

Instead, in a major shift toward calling “who you know” in a crisis, ward councillors and safety experts said the vast majority of suburbanites prefer an indirect route to emergency services, which they claim results in faster response to their homes.

In the Pinetown suburb of Highland Hills alone, the past week’s emergencies included a pedestrian knocked down, a woman waking to a large snake in her bed, and a burglar seen jumping over a wall.

Dylan Jenkins, head of the neighbourhood watch, said that — rather than calling 10111 — residents involved with all three cases first called the watch’s duty captain, who then used the Zello “walkie talkie” cellphone app to contact SA CAN, who then called the needed services.

Unlike residents, Brian Jones of SA CAN reported a “generally efficient” response from 10111 from the calls they made on residents’ behalf, and a rapid SAPS response to the scene — and suggested “its because they know who we are; we understand how to talk to police; and there’s no time wasted spelling names, or with traumatised victims in shock, trying to explain their situation to strangers.

“Also, 73% of the calls coming in to 10111 are not SAPS-related”.

SA CAN is a hybrid business and NGO, which says it has used new technologies and partnerships with more than 80 emergency services to become the country’s second largest community safety network, behind Gauteng-based eBlockwatch.

Jones said his network also had technology unavailable to police — including a system which identifies a caller’s location within seconds, a “dial-5” speed-dial system already used by 11 000 members in KZN, and an 0861 emergency number which all non-members could use as well.

Upper Highway councillor Rick Crouch said: “I would say fewer than 20% of my constituents would make use of [10111] in emergencies now, with other options they have faith in.”

Shane Thomson, operations manager for Enforce in Durban, said more than 90% of residents with armed response contracts spoke to a security company operator first during an emergency — and that the vast majority of these asked the company to contact SAPS.

However, police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker warned that “direct” contact with victims was key for the best police response.

“We always urge the community to call 10111 first in cases of emergency. It is always important that we speak directly to the complainant rather than a third party,” Naicker said.

Naicker also disputed the seemingly major shift to alternate call centres, saying “we have not noticed a drop in calls to the 10111 centre so if there are people calling other agencies rather than the police, it is minimal. Our hoax calls have also not dropped.”

‘Plethora of emergency numbers may lead to confusion during crisis’

ERIC Clover had to escape from his own home when an armed robber kicked down both his front door and his bedroom door.

But, after he evaded the robber, jumped his gate and desperately flagged down a passing motorist on Igwababa Road in Kloof, Clover didn’t shout “There’s a robber at my house — Please call 10111!”. Instead, he shouted “Call SA CAN!”.

A dozen KZN residents who have experienced recent emergencies all told Weekend Witness they were pleased with the response from non-10111 call centres, including armed response, SA CAN and neighbourhood watch patrol leaders.

But police and community representatives warned that the plethora of emergency numbers now listed on print-outs next to home phones could lead to confusion during crisis, or “broken telephone” miscommunication for SAPS and paramedics.

Weekend Witness also established that the 10111 call centres in Hilton and Durban are often flooded by up to four separate reports of the same incident.

Sam Shallcross, a base controller for Upper Highway neighbourhood patrollers, said the broader network ensured that help got to residents quickly, but admitted there was a “danger” of multiple 10111 calls.

In Pinetown, the Ashley Residents Neighbourhood Watch take so many “initial” emergency calls that they recently called a suburb meeting just to appeal to residents to call 10111 first — “if only just to get an IR [incident report] number”.

But other community policing forums have simply accepted that residents trust civilian neighbours or private security contracts more than police to organise help, and are rolling out dedicated 24-hour cell phone numbers.

Nikki Moolman of the Kloof CPF said it had launched its own emergency number this week to be saved as a speed dial: “We still suggest residents call SAPS, but now they have another team who can assist.”

Last month, when Pietermaritzburg businessman Stefan Schutte found his parents and brother murdered at their Richmond smallholding, he chose the SA CAN speed-dial, rather than the SAPS emergency number.

Last week, when Hillcrest resident Basil Smith thought he and his wife might have been poisoned, he first called SA CAN — and so did elder care worker Lynne Erasmus of Hilton, after a housebreaking at a family home.

In addition to the 33 000 associate members calling SA CAN, armed response companies say panic alarm call-backs mean they are often the first to speak to victims, and that they typically call 10111 on the their clients’ behalf.

Upper Highway councillor Rick Crouch said “far too many numbers” had created confusion. He admitted: “I have no idea who I’d call in a real emergency.”

In an effort to deal with it, SA CAN this week launched a laminated emergency “protocols” card, endorsed by the provincial SAPS. It recommends calling 10111 from a Telkom phone — so that your address pops up on the operator’s computer screen — and simultaneously pressing your security panic alarm or SA CAN speed dial button.

Just one “useful numbers” list kept by a pensioner couple in Gillitts includes the voluntary paramedics service VEMA, the Flying Squad, Blue Security, Metro police, ER24, SA CAN, Hillcrest Hospital, an emergency chemist number, their neighbour’s security company, Careline and Lifeline. Unsure whether they can call SA CAN without being members, they had written two question marks next to the number (non-members can, in fact, call the service). Across the highway, a similar family’s list includes an emergency “base” number for the Kloof Community Policing Forum — which was circled; a newly issued cell number for the same CPF; the local police station, and numbers for Community Emergency Medical Services (Cems); SA CAN; and 10111.

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