Mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services JP Smith. File picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures

Cape Town - The City of Cape Town’s safety and security directorate has started conducting physical and written assessments for recruits who will be central to a new strategy to help drive down gang- and drug-related crime and other social problems, the city said on Sunday.

The city would start training the first batch of recruits for its neighbourhood safety teams (NSTs) initiative later this month, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services JP Smith said.

This initiative was designed to take the city’s safety and security interventions in crime hotspots one step further by ensuring a constant presence in areas plagued by gang violence and associated social ills, he said.
Since 2006, the city had instituted a number of interventions in support of the fight against violent crime, which was the primary responsibility of the South African Police Service (SAPS).

This included specialised units such as the metro police gang and drug task team and the special investigations unit; introduction of school resource officers in conjunction with the Western Cape education department; neighbourhood safety officers to provide "bobby-on-the-beat" policing; ceasefire/cure violence interventions; shotspotter gunfire detection; introduction of the law enforcement stabilisation unit; training and equipping neighbourhood watch organisations; and the introduction of the informant management and reward system.

"These interventions have helped to reduce gang murders to such an extent that whereas they used to make up almost one-fifth of the murders in Cape Town, they now make up just over 11 percent. This figure is still far from satisfactory, but is a huge improvement on where we were as a city three years ago," Smith said.

"The biggest challenge has been dealing with the flare-ups of gang violence in different parts of the city, which leads to redeploying staff and interrupting the progress and stabilisation of the previous hotspot. The neighbourhood safety teams will offer a static and ongoing presence to guard against future flare-ups, but also to address other crime and anti-social concerns," he said.

The city had identified the 10 policing precincts with the highest crime rates to roll-out the neighbourhood safety teams initiative, and it was envisioned that between 90 and 120 personnel would be deployed in each precinct to expand the existing enforcement interventions, while also enhancing social investments through social development projects. 
For the current financial year, a R20 million budget had been approved for recruitment, training, and deployment of law enforcement staff in Hanover Park, Philippi, and Delft.
"The neighbourhood safety teams will allow the city to offer relief from the ongoing gang violence in a sustainable way, which we have not been able to do in the past. It’s important to stress that this is not a purely enforcement-driven intervention, but one that takes a whole-of-society approach. Many of the enforcement headaches result from social issues that are left to spiral, so we need to tackle both if we are to make a dent in the crime rate.
"I call on the affected communities, but also the public at large, to work with us in making this a success. The gang and drug interventions the city has introduced in the last decade do not fall within the mandate of local government, but we recognise that there is a crisis and so we are doing as much as we can with our limited resources to make a difference in the lives of our residents," Smith said.