Are You Resident, Or Are You Community?

By Harold F. Callahan

Perhaps that title should read “are you ‘a’ resident, etc. But I chose it like it is. The national evolution to active neighbourhood watches, citizen patrols, Community Police Forum cooperation and general civilian mobilisation in the last five to ten years has been to the large part very encouraging. For many, many years the last word in “neighbourhood watch” was some retired dude with a chrome .38 in a Toyota Corolla and some faded yellow and black signs on random street corners mostly concealed with bougainvillea. In the early 80’s Citizen Band radio had a short spurt of community networking where good buddies in Cortinas with K-40 aerials spotted road blocks, cars broken down, damsels in distress, and one incident I remember reading in CB magazine, a guy was talked through open heart surgery with an Okapi and half a pack of wet-wipes. Ok, it was CPR on a kid that nearly drowned but you can imagine the hype when talk around the braais that weekend was this oke who actually spoke to a stranger to help some laaitie who swallowed half of North Beach shore break.

Into the 90’s and the dawn of cellular communications people started talking more. And with the talking you had to take your share of rubbish. I had been long tired of faxes arriving at the office telling me the only way to cure AIDS was to rape and Indian virgin. Now that junk was being SMS’d around as fast as the cheesy asterisk Christmas trees that you marvelled at. The big leap came with the bloody BlackBerry. Ja they kicked off the “group chat” thing and they did help the pioneering of little groups of neighbours, colleagues, school classes, study groups or family members having their own closed conversations. Woe we cavemen who stuck faithfully to our diesel powered Nokias. We were shunned at those sorts of parties as we looked confused as friends would be tapping furiously with their little rat-thin fingers at the bloody tiny keys and giggling at each other’s jokes across the table. The rest of us just used that time to pass the tequila and get hammered.

With the advent of broader access to social media the communications sharing became a little less elitist. Platforms became available for everyone to talk to everyone else and suddenly everyone was AWARE. Of what? Well, nobody could really tell me. But whatever it was, was pretty damn bad. Every fear imaginable that we had been blissfully ignorant of since the 1820 settlers was now about to crawl up from THE township and grab us by the throat in “broad daylight”. If one thing pisses me off than guard duty in freezing rain, it is a local auntie trapping me in the Spar and showing me some utter crud about BP petrol stations giving you key rings with “trackers” in them. When I politely tell her to delete and forget, she says, “Well I’d rather be AWARE.” Honey, you can be aware as you like of a charging hippo, and I assure you, waving your Samsung in its face yelling “I’m AWARE of you!” will not slow the pachyderm stomping you into red mud even one tiny bit.

The upside is that people have become more ALERT to issues, challenges, threats and some good news that is going on around them. I’m not an English teacher, but to me, ‘alert’ indicates your positive, affirmative mental stature to receive new information and be prepared to interpret it. I just have the feeling that the way ‘aware’ is banded about, it means you were sent the data by Sandy you saw at Woolies who heard it from her pool cleaner. There is no substance in analysis of the data, excluding it as irrelevant or seeking new input before confirming or setting it aside. There was a time I suggested to Wikipedia that the verb ‘share’ should be universally abolished in favour of ‘pollute’. They didn’t see my point and the messages were ignored.

There was a time I suggested to Wikipedia that the verb ‘share’ should be universally abolished in favour of ‘pollute’. They didn’t see my point and the messages were ignored.

But with all the teething problems of networking and sorting out the irrelevant from the valuable, a mass of people did evolve into a population of individuals who now cared about what happened one street away. The challenge of course is the complete overload and uncontrolled duplication and editing of raw data. An intelligence analyst’s nightmare. That photo you got right now? Ja dude, see my phone? Two months old. Not ‘right now’.

A nice spin off, coming back to my title, is that there was a development in emotional and moral foundations by people in the area and the word “Community” was banded about more often. At the inception of the SAPS from the SAP (The police, since 1913 was never officially called “the police force”) the active policy was of “Community Policing”. In concept and practice the old style of policing in South Africa was the Police enforced the law and didn’t really care too much if you liked or disliked the manner in which it was conducted. Read here that many people of some cultural groups found this quite applicable and reassuring, and others quite oppressive. I’m sure, in hindsight, you would agree. A lot happened you didn’t hear about. Number one reason was because there was no facility to share the news. Second, you weren’t allowed to know. To divert slightly with a view of correcting misconceptions, ‘things’ were not better in the ‘good old days’. We executed, on average, a person a week in South Africa. How bad was violent crime for that to occur? Ja, people band about murder rates, but incidentally, that increase in rate is almost 100% congruent with population increase. In the early 1970’s we had a national population of 27 million. That means we’ve had a 104% population increase. I think it is fair to say, with any population increase you will have your fair increase of bad people within that population. Digression over. Community Policing is very similar to marketing a product. The local Police analyse the needs and threats posed on a community and tailor make an efficient service to address those factors. A natural progression was Sector Policing. Clearly, a farming and industrial area have very different threats and need to be policed differently. Prior to the SAPS there wasn’t that much of a differentiation in service delivery. A bit simplistically, if one had a crime spike we pretty much just applied more force to it until it went away. There was not much in the way of consultation with the community affected and the levels of mistrust in the Police forbade any useful information or intelligence coming forward.

To look at the term Community itself, it is a group of people living, working, owning businesses in or even commuting or travelling through the same geographical area who share similar belief systems, moral codes, hopes and aspirations. (Strictly, if you travel through my area to work, neither residing nor working in my area, you are still considered a community member while in my area and subject to all the protection and services I can afford you. An extension of that principle is that all service providers including Police, Fire, hospitals, schools, libraries, and the people employed there are also considered part of the community.)

A Resident just happens to live somewhere.

Where I am going with the definition and the evolution of communication networking is that communities have begun taking a level of responsibility and accountability for each other. The image of living in a castle, isolated from your neighbours does not hold water.  The simple reason is the criminal mind does differentiate between you and the guy next door. The crook will take the path of least resistance and attack the nearest and easiest. Further, criminals are no respecters of boundaries. If the road behind yours belongs to a different Police precinct, there is no magical line that the crook cannot cross either entering, exiting or fleeing through. Hence, with the organic nature of community networking, those boundaries, which are essentially lines on a map, fall away and there becomes less of a sense of them and us (Police and citizens included) and more of a problem shared is a problem halved.

To look at the term Community itself, it is a group of people living, working, owning businesses in or even commuting or travelling through the same geographical area who share similar belief systems, moral codes, hopes and aspirations.

A Resident just happens to live somewhere.

This is the beauty of critical mass. Many areas around the country have worked out their own population “buy ins” needed to deliver a more productive protective posture. If you have a geographic area as, let’s say, a sub sector of five hundred houses, you can work out with a degree of accuracy how many individuals you need to exercise a level of commitment as force multiplier to SAPS, Metro and security companies to dominate an area, hold the ground so to say, and deny the enemy opportunity to strike. Areas I am familiar with who follow this cumulative effect policy have shown massive drops in crime. There was an area I knew of five odd years ago that was experiencing up to two house robberies a day. That is, in an area of the supposed 500 houses, two incidents every 24 hours of armed criminals entering homes and holding up the family. Forget crime stats for a second and look at the human toll there. How many traumatised people, who risked serious injury or death were put in peril every day, seven days a week? An interesting roll off of this study was a collective analysis conducted by concerned community members and SAPS very quickly realised that a massive bulk of these crimes were being committed were absolutely no force was being used to enter the homes. In almost 100% of the cases criminals were coming down a driveway through open gates and entering a house through an open front door at eight p.m. in the evening. It came a shock to some of the residents to believe that they couldn’t, in this day and age, sit around with everything wide open as late as 23h00 and not expect an aspirant criminal to pop in for a hello and won’t you mind opening the safe. Jokes aside, the first job of this fledgling neighbourhood watch was to drive around every evening ringing door bells and telling fellow citizens to close their damn gates and doors. If my memory serves me correct it took nearly six months of concerted effort to take a population of upper middle class people to stop whining about being “under siege” and just doing the basics to secure themselves. A work in progress you can imagine, as five years later, monitoring NHW patroller chats they still come across the same houses nightly and literally have to tuck grown up adults into bed, lock up, arm the alarm and close the driveway gates. It almost goes without saying that the same people never shown any interest in joining the collective effort in doing their bit in the safety of their fellow…..residents.

It’s amazing. During THE WAR, every granny was stripping down old jerseys and re-knitting socks and such for soldiers overseas. They couldn’t do much more, but did something. Nowadays, while we are apparently “living in a war zone” you must hear the excuses why able bodied adult males can’t spend literally two hours a month in their double cab with a torch and a cell phone looking out for stuff that may warrant reporting to the Police. Name the excuse, I promise I’ve heard every one. But in a land so-called crime ridden, you should see how many people haven’t the first clue what the telephone number for their local police station is.

I’ve always said that being a victim is a state of mind. Well being a victim-in-waiting is the same. You are either part of a community, or you are not.


*Harold F. Callahan is a police officer with many years of experience, and who will be gracing Gunservant (and its rebranded guise when the new site is launched) with hopefully regular and useful articles pertaining to SAPS-related information and issues.

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