Hout Bay homes prey to ‘underworld Amazon.com’

DA spokesman on police, Zak Mbhele, speaks at the Hout Bay library last week.

A dire lack of crime intelligence is to blame for rising crime levels, Zak Mbhele, the DA’s spokesman on police, said at a meeting of the party’s Hout Bay branch last week.
Mr Mbhele said there were good police officers in the force, but they were “islands of excellence in a sea of dysfunction”.
JP Smith, Mayco member for safety and security and social services was also at the meeting, held at the Hout Bay library.
“The police are not well managed, and they are severely under-resourced and understaffed,” Mr Mbhele said. “The ugly part of it is that things won’t get better for a while, and the truth is that our communities are very much on their own.
“The Metro police are doing great work, but they have limited policing powers. For one, they don’t have investigating powers. The is a huge mountain of crime, but the channelling of crimes through the criminal justice system is not happening.”
Hout Bay, he said, faced four major crimes: taxi violence, crime stemming from protests, house robbery and burglary, and muggings and common assault.
“If you had more visible policing, this would act as a deterrent to opportunistic crimes like mugging. This is not happening because the police are so understaffed.
“When it comes to house robbery and burglary, these are committed by three to five individuals in a gang. These kinds of crimes take place on an ‘order’ basis, that is, criminals at the higher levels are looking for specific kind of things to be robbed by the gang. These items are sought after by the kingpins. It’s like the underworld Amazon.com.”
He said it would be possible to tackle this, but only with effective crime intelligence.
“Crime intelligence in SAPS has become a shambles. Crime intelligence, for example, used to run the witness protection programme, but it was later found that (former Crime Intelligence head) Richard Mdluli and his friends were using witness protection houses for parties and braais. When you have a situation like this, no one will come forward to assist police in their investigations.”
The situation was exacerbated by a shrinking SAPS, and budgets being slashed across all departments.
Mr Mbhele said three things needed to be done in terms of reforming the police.
“The first is localisation, whereby policing is made as local as possible to understand the local context of a community. The officers will then be able to shift gears to adapt to criminals’ new modus operandi.
“The second is the return of specialised police units. Generalised policing does not work. You need specialised units, for anti-hijacking and rural safety, for example.
“The third reform is professionalisation of the SAPS. There needs to be strong accountability enforcement. The police who go the extra mile are not being rewarded, and that needs to change. With these three pillars, I could almost guarantee that we could halve crime levels in a year or two.”
That was all dependant on national government taking the necessary steps to implement these measures, he said.
“In the meantime, communities will have to implement local safety partnerships through neighbourhood watches and crime deterrents like CCTV cameras and improved street lighting.
“Another option is to displace crime. This is what happens when a community responds to a spike in crime. When criminals see more of a presence on the streets, the crime may be displaced to other areas.”
He said the best result was obviously crime dissolution, but it was only SAPS that could do that.
“The case loads for detectives are ridiculous. Each detective is supposed to have a recommended case load of 60 at a time, but the reality is they are faced with between 120 and 150 cases at a time. The detectives, as a result, are not able to perform as well as they should.”
With so much concern over gang violence on the Cape Flats, Mr Smith said the DA’s calls for military intervention were not made lightly.
“I am personally opposed to military intervention, but we have a crisis out there,” Mr Smith said.
“I hear people talking. Every single block in the area has a child on crutches or has been paralysed due to a gang shooting. It is diabolical. Guns that have been handed in to the SAPS for destruction are ending up in the hands of gangsters. A statistic shows that a firearm is six times more likely to be lost by a police officer than a private citizen. All the people on the Cape Flats want is to be is safe.”
He said there were “very serious problems” with the SAPS currently.
“There is a real psychosis around centralisation with the government. They are now trying to create a national traffic service as well, which is ridiculous.”
Mr Smith added there was a critical lack of technology within the police service.
“The SAPS doesn’t have computer-aided dispatch technology, and you have police stations with a single email address.”
Mr Smith has met with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to have the provincial government compel the national government to deploy more police officers to the province.
He is also allocating money from his budget to assist neighbourhood watches in their patrols.
“We are also busy implementing a programme where auxiliary members who have the powers of search, seizure and arrest will go out with neighbourhood watches on their patrols.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel André Traut said violence linked to the taxi industry was a complex matter that required an in-depth understanding of the underlying factors in order for sustainable solutions to be found. 
“The underlying factors to these violent incidents have very little to do with the SAPS. However for there to be stability in the taxi industry, the underlying causes need to be addressed,” he said. 
“A series of recent engagements with key stakeholders within the taxi sector revealed a number of issues that remain a sore point for all involved. These included licensing of taxi operators, continuation of licensing of saturated taxi routes,  delays in electing members of the taxi board, and enforcement of license conditions.”
He said the SAPS in the Western Cape, informed by its crime pattern analysis, realised the need to prioritise taxi-related cases. 
“As a consequence a team of specialist detectives are focusing on these cases in a bid to apprehend the hitmen and those behind them. On the crime prevention front, intelligence-led operations are held frequently at identified taxi hubs throughout the province. In addition, the SAPS is a member of the recently established task team that looks into resolving taxi-related violent incidents.”
Turning to gangs, Colonel Traut said police stations conducted operations at identified hot spots on the Cape Flats. 
“Specialised interventions such as Operation Combat specifically focus on gang-related crime targeting identified suspects. Recently in April, a national intervention in the form of Operation Thunder bolstered local forces with 269 members. They conduct various operations on the Cape Flats and other townships in the Western Cape. 
“Thus far, they have made inroads into gangsterism, firearms and drug crimes. It is worth noting that sustainable solutions to the scourge of violent crimes require an integrated effort comprising all.”