Changing the crime picture requires effective community police relations
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Mutual relations and trust between members of various law enforcement agencies and the communities is critical in maintaining public safety, effective policing and ultimately changing the crime picture.
The community depends on the police to protect and serve them. In return, the police need community support and cooperation to be effective and efficient in discharging their duties.
When communication and trust deteriorate, tensions build which in turn undermines their shared goal of creating safer communities. The need to improve the quality of policing in the province, and strengthening of community involvement in the fight against crime has reached critical point.
Having noted the crime statistics presented last Friday, it is evident that the police are making strides in ensuring the decline in various crime categories. It is encouraging that all contact crimes such as murder, sexual offences, attempted murder, assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm, common assault, common robbery, and robbery with aggravating circumstances, decreased by 8.5% in the 4th quarter of 2020/21 financial year.
There are many notable successes recorded in the first quarter, such as the decrease in Cash-In-Transit heists by 10.6%, but there are concerns around other crime categories such as the increase in carjacking by almost 5%. While all cases of assault have decreased by over 9%, there were still over 75,000 cases of common assault and assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm recorded.
What is of concern is that most of these incidents are as a result of the influence of alcohol.While gender-based violence and femicide remain thorny issues, the decline in sexual offence cases is a welcome relief. However, the fact that about 9 518 people were raped in the first quarter is extremely disturbing. Gender based violence must be fought at all times and never be allowed to destabilise our communities.
It is worth noting that the police are doing something especially regarding the DNA backlog and rape kits, which have been a major concern for authorities in the recent past. The fact that 42% of dockets for crimes committed against women and children that have been outstanding for over a year, have now been finalised and that more forensic analysts will be recruited to address the backlog, is something to write home about.
While the murder rate has increased drastically, more needs to be done if we are to arrest the scourge especially in the Ivory Park policing precinct which recorded the highest murders in Gauteng with about 40 killings in just the first three months. It is evident that more work still needs to be done if we are to realise Gauteng as a safe and secure province since violence is still prevalent in most communities.
Police minister General Bheki Cele indicated that, “Improving and cultivating the partnership between the police and communities is more important now than ever”. The relationship of the police to the communities should be such that it is harmonious, respectful and built on trust.
It is generally accepted that the police count on the cooperation of community members to develop safety solutions to crime and assist them by providing information, which may lead to the arrest of criminals in their neighbourhoods.
Community policing is recognised as an effective way to build trust between the police and the community through cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies and local leaders, non-profits and businesses.
This strategy calls for law enforcement officers to be visible and get to know the members of the communities in which they operate.
The Gauteng Department of Community Safety has over the years assisted in building strong relations between the police and the members of the community through its Community Policing Forums (CPF) initiatives. CPF’s are critical in representing the policing interest of the community at local, cluster, provincial and national level. Ongoing participation and involvement between the police and community is central to building community policing relations.
The Ready to Govern document of the African National Congress, states that policing shall be based on community support and participation, and that the police shall be accountable to society and the community it serves. There is a need for interdependence and shared responsibility between the police and the communities in an active partnership towards the fight against crime.
Moreover, section 205 (3) of the Constitution stipulates that it is vital that the government monitor the police service, and promote good relations between the police and the community (Section 206). It is for this reason that the Department of Community Safety always strives to enhance relations between the community and the police as part of its oversight role.
Working with various law enforcement agencies, the Department will continue to develop the necessary interventions to strengthen the coordination of resources in the province which will in turn enhance community policing relations. Our observation is that CPF structures on the ground are already conducting some form of policing oversight and this is carried out in different forms, but is aimed at improving the quality of policing at that level.
It is the department’s vision to ensure that CPF structures are positioned accordingly as agents of Policing Oversight and assist in social crime prevention at the local level. As the Gauteng City Region, we acknowledge that we have a mammoth task ahead in ensuring that we create safer spaces for Gauteng citizens. All these can be achieved only when the relations between police and community members are enhanced continuously.
Changing the crime picture will require effective community police relations at local level, this way we will be able to deal decisively with the many criminal elements that have infiltrated our communities and ensure Gauteng as a safe and secure province.