Cape Town – An innocent man shot in the head for no reason on the way home from work in Delft this week. A body count of almost 30 thus far this month. Around 300 robberies a day in the area not even being reported.
While the army might stem the crime tide for three months, what then? The ultimate responsibility lies with the community, which needs to be empowered, says Delft Community Policing Forum chairperson Pastor Charles George.
In a township that became a city overnight and which wasn’t built to hold over 500 000 people; where 4 000 children aren’t in school and the absence of sports fields are conspicuous; and where the shebeen is the only form of entertainment and the drug lord a role model, Delft piloted a project using a tuk-tuk and a drone to show there is a more sustainable crime-fighting solution at hand. Not only to gang-infested Delft’s crime woes but "off the charts" unemployment as well.
Why spend all that money on deploying the SANDF when technology has been shown to have a huge effect on decreasing crime levels?
"When you bring in an army to try to take responsibility for a community, I think that’s really outdated. That’s been in the past and that’s why we as a nation are in the position we are in at the moment.
"If you put the responsibility back in the hands of the people, we need to create the atmosphere and environment for them to become innovative and creative with regards to their ability to fix crime within their own community.
"Looking at us as people living in the 21st century and seeing how technology has disrupted industries across the board, then I think we need to be very creative and innovative when it comes to fighting crime. You cannot fight crime with 1940 methodology.
"If you look at the research documents out there regarding the effect drone technology has had in fighting crime, then in South Africa we are far behind in the world with regards to how we combat crime and how we create and environment in which people and businesses can grow. The latest research documents on Brazil showed just how much the crime rate dropped because of the eye in the sky."
Since 2012 the Brazilian police has been trying out drones to track criminal activity in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (high-density slums). At the end of last year, Rio de Janeiro state moved ahead with plans to deploy security cameras and drones to help fight crime.
Starting on a shoe-string budget, the Delft police station commander has nevertheless been excited by the potential of a project that, for the moment, only utilises a tuk-tuk with a flat-screen TV built into it, following a drone "out on patrol". It can become a wide-ranging vehicle for job creation and, with the necessary financial support, be duplicated in other areas.
"We started the pilot about three weeks ago and we set it up all at our own cost. Your local neighbourhood watch member cannot see around the corner and into the vast wetlands that are situated in townships. Drone footage can give them a better understanding of what they are dealing with.
"If you look at what the government is spending on fighting crime, the cost factor shouldn’t be a problem with so many innocent lives being lost in the province. Job creation is also a bigger component behind this whole initiative.
"There is too much crime. In Delft, there are 300 robberies a day that’s not being reported because the system doesn’t allow for the normal man in the street to go and report crime.
"So when you build something in the community where the perpetrators know they are being watched, then all of a sudden there is a different mindset that comes in to play.
"I showed it to the local station commander and explained to him what the plan is and they were highly excited. Obviously, it’s not for them to make the decision. What I am trying to do is to try and find an international funder because we’ve been working on a shoe-string budget and we want them to scale up our model.
"Ultimately the model is where the technology makes every citizen in the township part of the neighbourhood watch so you don’t only have a group of people who take the responsibility on their shoulders to take care of the community, but you have everybody involved by being a Bambanani or a neighbourhood watch.
"At the moment in Delft we have got about 15 neighbourhood watch groups and we’ve got a couple more that we are registering.
"The drone that we have is a cheap one, but the more expensive one can fly at night as well and in different weather conditions.
"We’ve just had enough funds to kit out the tuk-tuk and to get the guys trained on how to fly the drone. Getting the neighbourhood watch guys involved in the tuk-tuk with a flat-screen, that is the easy part.
"But we want to roll out the footage because being in a wi-fi hot spot we can roll it out to every household as well. Once we start to patrol, we go on Facebook Live and then show the live footage to every citizen. So those who are not patrolling can observe in their homes and get in contact if they spot anything that is out of order.
It’s a tuk-tuk with multi-purpose potential. "During the day the tuk-tuk does door-to-door deliveries of groceries that people buy on our virtual mall platform. Then in the evening that same tuk-tuk gets used to help the neighbourhood watch with their patrols," said George.
"So you have one driver for job creation. Then you have a control room where all the footage feeds into where you have young people manning it. So there are more jobs there. Then you have young people flying these drones and others servicing these tuk-tuks, creating more jobs.
"We are not flying the drones too high or close to the national airport in contravention of legislation. We are just flying it 80 to 90 metres above the ground. We want to build the control room on the roof of one of our buildings. If you are standing on the roof of one of our buildings, you can see the entire community.
"When the neighbourhood watch engages with any criminal activity, they can then deploy a flare. So the first respondent to any emergency is a drone – not a paramedic who comes to an area just to be robbed and raped.
"And when the police get summoned, sometimes it’s also a trap and they get robbed. So a drone would first go to any emergency to get the information and then send that information to the relevant respondent.
"If it is a paramedic, then we can say the area is safe because currently if you call the ambulance or the paramedics, they have to be escorted by the police.
"You can’t expect the police to escort the paramedic because if you take them away on the one side, then they can’t do service as the police on the other side. So technology can make their take easier by assisting them.
"We aren’t sure how the army will be deployed, but what we are sure of is that the army will only be deployed for three months, then what? The body count has gone up. Last night we had two shot in the head, including an innocent man coming home from work for no reason.
"Delft has become a city overnight. Delft wasn’t built to hold over 500 000 people. Suddenly you have overcrowding and the infrastructure isn’t there. Unemployment is off the charts. Because of that environment your crime just starts to spike out of control.
"The only entertainment in a township at the moment is a shebeen. That’s where drug peddling happens and kids get introduced to alcohol. There’s no soccer fields, rugby field, cricket patches, netball, baseball, nothing. These kids aspire to look like the drug lord because that’s their role model.
"So we have currently over 4 000 children not in school in Delft. The system is failing our people. The ratio between teacher and student is 60 kids per classroom and those kids don’t get the necessary attention and support and they just drop out. In one area in Delft, there’s a primary school but there is no high school.
"When kids go from one area to another in high school, they are going to a different gang territory. So now it’s not safe to go to school so they drop out. There are 28 schools in Delft and the majority are primary schools."
Regarding accusations of corrupt police officers, George said: "Anyone can try to throw stones. But at this stage what is needed is for us all to come together and to say what is the ultimate solution and how are we going to deal with it."