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Numerous recent stabbings in Long Street in the Cape Town city centre have led to law enforcement authorities having to review their crime prevention strategies along one of the city’s most famous streets in time for summer.
This emerged after numerous stabbings were reported in the area last weekend.
Brandon Golding, chairman of the Cape Town Central Community Policing Forum, confirmed that the incidents had taken place and that numerous people, some minors, had been taken into custody.
Golding said the SAPS would look at a response plan so it could be prepared for this scale of violence. “We are concerned that it may happen again as there are other holidays coming up. We will take this as a lesson.”
It has also raised questions about the respective capacities of the SAPS, the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement agencies.
Golding admitted that the “numbers were tight” in terms of police officers patrolling the city centre. The staffing norm was one active vehicle with two officers per sector.
There were also two dedicated crime teams who would respond as needed.
In sector one, which includes Long Street, there could be six to eight police officers on duty. “It’s not great, but it’s what we are saddled with.”
But he said this was not the norm for Long Street, where pick-pocketing, drunken fights and theft from cars were more common.
“The other night was Matric Ball weekend and a whole lot of people came into the area by taxi.” Many of them were reportedly inebriated when they arrived and the violence involved suspected rival gang factions from various schools.
Golding said the law enforcement officers who responded were not geared up for what soon escalated into a riot situation. However, given the speed at which events unfolded, and the risk to the other revellers in the popular night spot, law enforcement did a commendable job of containing the situation, he said.
Journalist Sipho Hlongwane, who witnessed the fracas early on Sunday, reported in a Business Day column how he had walked into a “riot” that was allowed to “escalate and ebb” with little intervention from law enforcement.
Ryan Morris, a paramedic who was on duty that night, tweeted the following soon after the incident: “So far treated seven patients in three calls. Long Street full of underage kids drinking and fighting. Scary thought. Stabbing left, right and centre.”
He later commented on Hlongwane’s column, saying: “I was on shift with Community Medics that night. I was called to a stabbed chest, and while awaiting the ambulance, I had more and more patients being brought to me. At that scene alone, I dealt with five patients and was attacked by one of the groups.” The oldest patient was just 17 years old.
Hlongwane said the perception that crime and Long Street were synonymous needed to change. “It is not good enough to shrug and say, ‘Long Street, hey’ and move on,” he wrote.
JP Smith, the City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, said this was an “isolated incident”.
“No, things are not out of control – very far from it. The crime incident ratio across the CBD is a fraction of what other police stations face even though the levels of crime are much higher. Metro police, law enforcement and traffic officials do ongoing operations in Long Street, covering the full range of policing from petty to interpersonal and property crime.”
However, Sunday’s events have forced the various law enforcement agencies to re-assess the way they handle situations like these.
Smith said: “SAPS are under-resourced but we have a meeting coming up to see how we can help them clamp down.”
The CCID puts 70 officers on foot, four mobile response units, four officers on bicycles and one shift manager per shift in the central city. An extra six officers on foot and a mobile unit go into Long Street at night and over weekends.
Tasso Evangelinos, chief operating officer of the CCID, said it was also the responsibility of retailers and entertainment venues to stand up against this type of behaviour.
He said while the CCID worked with the SAPS, it “simply does not help the situation if one half of the partnership is under-resourced”.
Ward councillor for the city centre, Dave Bryant, said although violent crime here was low compared with other parts of the metro, more could be done to curb crime in Long Street.
“However, one has to weigh up the resources which would be required to fill the street with police and the desperate needs in other parts of the city.”
The pedestrianisation of Long Street was a possible solution being considered by the city, he said.