Cape Town - Capetonians will be able to “ride along” with metro police and other law enforcement officials on anti-crime patrols as early as next month, if the City of Cape Town approves a programme designed to “restore credibility” in the police.
An initiative of Jean-Pierre “JP” Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, the programme – which has already stirred up controversy – allows members of the public to accompany any of the city’s five safety and security branches as they go about their daily work. These are metro police, law enforcement, traffic police, disaster risk management and fire and emergency services.
Smith said on Sunday that the programme, which has already been approved by the city’s safety and security directorate, was designed to “fight back” against negative perceptions of the police.
Applicants must be older than 18, but minors could accompany police if a waiver was signed by a parent or guardian.
The ride-along policy has a strict dress code. “Inappropriate clothing” includes faded, worn, white or acid washed, torn, patched or mended items. Off-the-shoulder tops, midriff tops, low cut blouses or tight-fitting items are banned. So are mini-skirts or mini shorts, tanks tops, flip flops, high heels and dresses.
By joining law enforcement officials on patrols, the “credibility gap” between the public and law enforcement would be narrowed.
The initiative would also serve as a recruitment tool.
Smith said first-hand experience of policing could encourage the “best and the brightest” of the city’s youth to consider careers in law enforcement.
But the ANC’s Tony Ehrenreich slammed the initiative on Sunday, calling it a “gimmick” and would make people feel like they were on a “joy ride” in “a New York movie”.
Ehrenreich, who repeated an earlier call for Smith to step down, said it would put the public in danger. “Everyone in a police car is at risk,” he said.
“This is not surprising coming from JP Smith,” said Ehrenreich. “He has failed to comprehensively deal with safety and criminality issues in the community during his entire tenure.”
But Guy Lamb, the director of the safety and violence initiative at UCT, said on Sunday there was a major credibility gap between the public and the police, and the ride-along policy could be a “start” to change this.
It was difficult to tell how dangerous it would be for the public, said Lamb.
He said the metro police had up-to-date information on incidences of crime and gang activity, and with ride-alongs they would avoid areas with high crime rates.
“It’s unlikely they’ll take people into the middle of a gang war,” he said.
Smith said on Sunday the policy of ride-alongs was based on “best practice” from overseas. The “patrol ride-along programme” of the Sacramento police department in the US served as a model for his proposal.
To ensure the public’s safety during the two to four-hour patrols with metro police, they would only accompany selected metro police officers with the rank of supervisor or higher, who have experience in escorting journalists or researchers in police cars.
Before patrols, the public would be briefed on safety and police operating procedures, and “would not be put in any high-risk situations”. The cars would patrol “slightly safer neighbourhoods” Monday to Thursday from 8am to 8pm.
Only members of the public with written consent, who could motivate their reasons, could go along.
Officials will screen applicants to make sure they do not have a criminal record.
Those requesting a ride-along should be “of good character, not likely to endanger the safety of the public or him/herself”.
No one will be allowed to observe raids, roadblocks and sensitive disaster risk operations without co-ordination and approval.
“If the member believes a problem may arise, the ride-along should be transferred to another member or returned to the base,” the policy states.
The SA Police Service is not part of the programme, which will only be rolled out in the City of Cape Town.