Saturday, October 17, 2009

South Africa looks to Colombia to roll back crime

Methinks a lot of yada yada that will amount to nada. The "trio" crimes - murder, rape and robbery - increased in Gauteng in the latest crime stats despite evidence of fudging of the numbers.

Sexual crimes (including rape) shot up from 15 074 to 17 902, murder rose from 3 674 to 3 884, burglaries jumped from 62 703 to 68 090; hijackings increased from 7 466 to 7 626; and business robberies (including mall robberies) rose from 5 098 to 6 216.

What did these people 'learn' from their junkets to New York and Bogota and what of their new strategy which commenced in 2006 if crimes in Gauteng are still on the increase? The difference between Gauteng and Colombia will always be in the intelligence of the officials and police members. Stupid can't fix stupid. The accidental murder of a motorist recently by police confirms it.

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JohannesburgAnti-crime strategists in the Gauteng provincial government say strategies that worked in Colombia can be successfully applied in SA.

Colombia's capital, Bogota, was among the world's most violent cities, gripped by drug wars and rampant crime. But between 1996 and 2001, violent crime fell 75%, without a concomitant increase in police numbers, and in a period of rising unemployment.

Through focused social investments, better police training and use of crime intelligence, the arrest and detention rates of wanted criminals rose 500%.

Gareth Newham, special project manager in the Gauteng community safety department, says Bogota's strategy was a comprehensive social effort led by the mayor that even included educating the youth on how to handle alcohol. More than 200 initiatives were tried.

The city set out to build citizenship through, for instance, improving public transport, building public spaces and generally making infrastructure work better for the poor. "Bogota wasn't really a model as much as providing specific lessons," Newham says.

Gauteng has also looked at New York for international best practice in combating the "trio crimes" -- hijacking, house and business robbery -- which are on the rise .

"We first looked at Bogota when we considered the Gauteng safety strategy in 2006, which is an overreaching strategy for safety," says Newham. Much of the plan is on social crime prevention that goes beyond ordinary police work.

The strategy intends to involve all government departments in combating crime. Improving the quality of policing is just one of a list of strategies, many of which are long term.

Newham was among a team of officials from Gauteng who visited the New York Police Department to look at how station commanders are held accountable, as well as how the city's specialist police units are structured. "We got a huge amount of very valuable information."

Gauteng is the most dangerous province in SA, with residents at almost twice as much risk as those in other parts of the country.

The trio crimes, occurring where one would expect to be safest, have a deep psychological effect on people, influencing their decision to emigrate or invest, says Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.

In 2007, the province developed the Gauteng Information on Police Performance System, which ascribed poor policing results to fragmented law enforcement and poor use of intelligence by itinerant police officers.

Corrective measures culminated in the implementation of the Gauteng Aggravated Robbery Strategy, a collaboration with the South African Police Service early this year. Already the results are promising, pointing to an incipient downward trend in the three crimes. The strategy works through localising police work and grouping all of Gauteng's 134 police stations into 22 clusters, each with dedicated teams of investigators and prosecutors responsible for tracing and arresting wanted suspects in their areas.

A dedicated co-ordination centre -- set up on an initial budget of R10m -- provides specialised support. The province also bought 42 new vehicles for use in law enforcement.

SA's murder ratio has also fallen from 67,2 to 37,3 per 100000 since 1994. But progress in Colombia has been more rapid, falling from 62,7 per 100000 in 2000 to 36 now.

"The key lesson there was to focus on the most violent crimes -- murder, rape and robbery. Those are the crimes that cause the most fear and social dislocation and alienation," Newman says. As violent crime decreases, communities feel less fearful, trust the police more and can better deal with petty crimes.

Burger says Colombia borrowed on the "broken window" and "zero tolerance" approaches, even towards petty offences. Both systems were successfully implemented in New York in the 1990s. Robbery alone fell 67% from 1990-1999.

The "broken window" theory works by eliminating the image of decay, disorder and negligence. "Strange how criminals work; when they see this kind of thing they sense there is no control. Where there is no control, that is where they want to be," Burger says.

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