A memorial was held for slain Milnerton Ridge Neighbourhood Watch member Ignatius “Ignis” van Rooyen, who was killed last Friday.
Cape Town - A lack of police resources puts a heavy burden on neighbourhood watches in the fight against crime, say volunteers who patrol their suburbs to keep them crime-free. 

This has led to frustration among neighbourhood watch members who are picking up the slack, often putting their own lives at risk.

This week, a memorial was held for slain Milnerton Ridge Neighbourhood Watch member Ignatius “Ignis” van Rooyen, who was killed last Friday.

After the tragedy, chairman of the Milnerton Ridge Neighbourhood Watch Mark Lindsell issued a warning to members “to be careful out there”, and patrol in numbers to prevent “another unnecessary tragedy”.

Lindsell, who is also deputy chairman of the Milnerton Community Police Forum (CPF), said Van Rooyen died while responding to a suspected hijacking when he was shot in Freedom Way, Montague Gardens.

“No matter how innocent the situation or how suspicious, we have to be careful. Be prepared, assess what is happening, but take precautions before you do anything,” warned Lindsell.

Van Rooyen, who was originally from Free State, moved to Cape Town in 2012. He had his own plumbing business and lived with his fiancée in Milnerton Ridge, where residents described him “as the most kind and generous person”.

Friend and neighbour Rob Peche said he had spoken to Van Rooyen an hour before the fatal shooting, and Van Rooyen told him he was going out on patrol.

“He died trying to do what he always did - help people,” he said. 

Peche received the news of Van Rooyen’s death from a shocked crime watch patroller, rushed to the scene at Montague Gardens and had to break the news to Van Rooyen’s fiancée.

Peche added that Van Rooyen cared deeply and knew all the homeless people in the neighbourhood by name.

“He was allergic to cats but rescued a litter from under a prickly pear tree near our complex. He arrived with the kittens in a box, his arms scratched, partly from the kittens and partly the prickly pears.”

Chairman of BKM (Bergvliet, Kreupelbosch Meadowridge) Watch Brian Wilkinson said they offered training to patrollers every three weeks where they advised them not to rush to a scene, and not to put themselves in harm’s way. He said patrollers were there to observe and report, and in an active crime scene, should stay on the periphery.

He said support from SAPS had become limited as they struggled with resources. Neighbourhood watch members had become frustrated, he said, because there was often no response when they called for help in crime situations. When BKM Watch was started in 2007, “the police were more willing to help”, he said.

The lack of resources at SAPS was a national issue, he said.

Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith - who attended a patrol this week with neighbourhood watch members from Milnerton and surrounding suburbs - said the city would reach out to SAPS to offer assistance with the investigation into the death.

Meanwhile, the city’s executive director for safety and security, Richard Bosman, said it had invested millions on training and equipment for neighbourhood watches.

It had also built a radio communications network which helped patrollers keep in touch.

Bosman said training was focused on crime prevention.

“We do not encourage or expect NHW members to confront criminals. The reality is, however, that the crime that poses a threat to communities could result in their contact with criminals from time to time,” said Bosman.

He added neighbourhood watches were volunteer organisations and did not report to his directorate.

“We are therefore not in a position to prescribe protocols of operation, and have no intention to do so,” Bosman said.

The provincial department of community safety said it offered basic neighbourhood watch training, first aid and basic firefighting training to neighbourhood watches.

Spokesperson for MEC Albert Fritz, Cayla Ann Tomás Murray said neighbourhood watch members did not have any legal powers and acted as “eyes and ears” only.

“When they respond to a criminal act, they must firstly inform the police. They cannot put themselves in danger as they are civilians,” she said. Lesley Ashton, a former Tygerberg CPF cluster chairperson and neighbourhood watch member in Kraaifontein, said the city should ensure that NHW members understood their roles.

Weekend Argus