Fight over territory

2017-11-07 06:00

“They should not pass our boundary. They should patrol in their own area.”

These are the words of Diaz neighbourhood watch (NHW) members in Grassy Park after about fellow patrollers from Mountainview NHW.

The two groups, who patrol in one area, have been challenging each other since last month. Residents are now calling on the Grassy Park Community Policing Forum (CPF) to step in.

Diaz NHW’s Howard Downes allegedly threatened and harassed a patroller of Mountainview NW on the morning of Tuesday 3 October.

Bradley Ruiters of Mountainview NHW says Downes was arrested the following Monday after he had reported it to the police.

“I was forced to obtain a protection order against harassment, and to also lay a criminal charge of intimidation following a series of incidents which culminated in me being threatened with harm and damage to my vehicle,” says ­Ruiters.

“I was driving down Diaz Road in Grassy Park at 06:00 when I was stopped by Downes and Maruwaan Schouw, who informed me that they don’t want me driving though their area.

“Fortunately, my vehicle dash cam is always turned on, so I was able to record when Downes threatened me with the following words: ‘If you come here again we will do something to you and your vehicle.’

“Downes then proceeded with his actions.”

Ruiters says after the incident he wrote to the area’s CPF.

“I registered my concern that the CPF allowed its members to interfere with the right of citizens to freedom of movement.

“They notified me that Downes was not a member of a registered NHW, and that Schouw has been suspended from the Diaz NHW while an assault charge laid against him is running its course,” he says.

On Wednesday morning at around 05:00, while driving on patrol in Third Avenue, Grassy Park, Ruiters was once again motioned to stop by someone from the Diaz group.

“I was challenged about where I was going and warned: ‘You remember what happened the last time, right?’”

“I am simply a citizen who laid a criminal charge because I was threatened, and have applied for a protection order against harassment because my constitutional right to freedom of movement is being interfered with,” says Ruiters.

He says the story about boundaries is a red herring. 

“Any citizen has the right to move about freely. If you are going to fall for that boundary nonsense, then it legitimises these people’s ramblings. My only wish is that the law be allowed to run its course. For my family’s sake I cannot take lightly the aggressive demeanour of these men, particularly the threat to do harm.” 

Need for respect

Downes and Schouws deny the allegations and say there would be no dispute if the Mountainview NHW members had communicated with them. 
Downes denies that he was arrested.

Warrant Officer Wynita Kleinsmith of Grassy Park police says: “I can confirm that a case was opened. The suspect was charged and came in for questioning and fingerprints. According to the case system, the docket was withdrawn at court.”

Downes says the court kicked out the case because “they said there was no relevance to it”. 

“Secondly, we have no issue with them coming into our zone, but they need to respect our boundaries and ask if they can patrol this side before doing so.

“The various NHWs attended a meeting with the CPF, who clearly stated that they don’t want other groups patrolling in each other’s boundaries. So why are they patrolling here with their flashlights and uniforms? They are disrespecting us by just ­entering here.”

Downes says Ruiters can enter his area anytime. “They can walk freely in this country, wherever they wish, but we won’t allow them to patrol in our area without informing us, as there are boundaries,” he adds.

Grassy Park CPF’s Phillip Bam says: “There is another criminal case involving members of Diaz. We are restricted from commenting at this stage.”

Isham Davids of the provincial department of community safety says: “Neither of the two neighbourhood watch structures is accredited by the department. The department can only intervene if they have been accredited by us, as all accredited neighbourhood watches must abide by the code of conduct and the regulations for accreditation,” he says.

“Neighbourhood watches are voluntary entities and therefore can exist without being accredited by the department, it just means that they will not be formerly recognised by us and will not qualify for training and support. The Western Cape Community Safety Act does not require neighbourhood watches to be registered by the CPF as they will be regulated by [the act when they are accredited].

“However, the department always encourages a working relationship between all safety partners and therefore asks CPFs to endorse the functional neighbourhood watches before the department considers them for accreditation, says Davids. 

“Members that apply for accreditation but are found to have a criminal record younger than five years are not allowed to be part of a NHW and this is communicated to all structures as the act requires that they be screened and vetted. All groups who are accredited by the department must abide by the code of conduct for NHWs and the regulations for accreditation. Failure to do so will result in the accreditation being ­withdrawn.”

With regards to NHW boundaries, each group must clearly define its boundary during the application process to prevent duplication, as there can only be one NHW within a given area, Davids says. 

“You must be a resident of that specific area and cannot change or amend the ­boundaries.”

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