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Durban - The national crime statistics released by police this week painted a bleak picture of the levels of the scourge in the country.

As new and effective tools are needed to continue with the fight against crime, authorities said that WhatsApp groups have become the new panic button for communities. The instant messaging service is being used as an effective tool in the fight against crime.

Even some mayors have turned to the service as a crime-fighting forum. eThekwini municipality deputy mayor Fawzia Peer is among them.

Peer said she currently administers multiple WhatsApp groups around Durban. This includes community groups for areas such as Isipingo, Chatsworth, Westville and Overport.

“We found the crime reporting WhatsApp groups to be an excellent way to keep sector groups, community policing forums, and residents alert to crime, at any given time, especially when there is a burglary or suspicious activity in their area.

“Even when there are suspicious vehicles driving around the area, warnings are issued on these groups,” said Peer.

She said she worked together with authorities to ensure there was rapid response to forum alerts.

Metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Sewpersadh Parbhoo said hijacked vehicles are recovered even before the owners realised their cars were stolen, thanks to the evolution of technology and the use of WhatsApp.

“At metro police, we run multiple rapid response groups on WhatsApp.

“This allows us to be on top of our work at all times as we are always on high alert regarding crime. It has created a forum for officers to interact with each other and share instant information hence resulting in faster responses,” said Parbhoo.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker also said that police used the service to improve their efforts. He said the SAPS ran multiple WhatsApp groups and worked together with other role players such as private security companies, community policing forums and tracking services to ensure rapid response.

“WhatsApp has made a huge difference to the way we communicate and it’s cost-effective and is instant which makes it even better in terms of crime-fighting efforts. It also creates a platform for communities to interact with each other when something happens in their area and puts them on high alert at the click of a button,” said Naicker.

Digital expert Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx said instant messaging services have been around since the start of the popular MXiT service, which was popularly used by youth.

“Then came BBM and WhatsApp, which started to be used by people across all age groups. “Today, the service is used by communities across the globe for various purposes, with crime fighting being one of them,” said Goldstuck.

This week’s crime statistics revealed that overall, crime had decreased in KwaZulu-Natal over the last year. However, the murder rate was up, as well as robbery with aggravating circumstances and trio crimes which include hijackings, residential robberies and business robberies.

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Sunday Tribune