Using the army to fight gang violence will not work – Chicago police advise SA

By Karabo Mafolo 9 April 2019

Chicago’s Deputy Chief of Police Eric Carter and District Commander Ernest Cato III speak in Cape Town on 8 April 2019. The two visited Cape Town to expand law enforcement partnerships between the two cities. Photo: Jonah Dylan

Chicago’s Deputy Chief of Police, Eric Carter, and District Commander, Ernest Cato III, are in Cape Town for three days to share insights with South Africa on how to tackle gang violence.

Chicago, much like some areas of Cape Town, has been ravaged by gang violence. But a concerted effort by law enforcement in the US city has seen gun violence decline. In 2018 shootings there were down by 17%, still higher than the shootings that took place in 2014, but this illustrates a trend which for the past two years has seen gun violence declining in Chicago.

Chicago Deputy Chief of Police Eric Carter and District Commander Ernest Cato III are in the country for three days this week to share how they managed to begin to arrest gun violence and what Cape Town can learn from their interventions.

Cape Town has much to learn. According to the 2017-2018 crime statistics, seven of the 10 police stations with the most murder cases reported were in the Western Cape.

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And since 2012, the Democratic Alliance has been calling for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to be deployed to the Cape Flats in order to curb gang violence.

Using the military to combat gang violence is not an idea that Carter and Cato support.

That means we failed as an organisation. That means we failed to do our jobs at a basic level of policing,” said Cato.

The DA’s argument is that the military wouldn’t be replacing the police force, they’d merely be assisting the police to do their jobs.

Former police minister Fikile Mbalula was also in favour of deploying the army, not just in the Western Cape but for other crime-ridden areas in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

According to the 2017-2018, crime statistics, the three provinces dominated the list of the 30 police stations where the most murder cases were reported.

Operation Fiela was launched in 2015 by Mbalula. Originally it was a response to xenophobic attacks, but it evolved into fighting crime.

As part of Operation Fiela, soldiers were brought into the Cape Town suburb of Manenberg to assist the police with searching for guns and drugs. This intervention did not decrease crime — it increased it.

Cato and Carter both don’t think military intervention is ideal.

It’s something we constantly work on to make sure that we never have to go through that extreme,” said Cato.

Police Minister Bheki Cele is opposed to military intervention in communities. He says it will escalate violence.

Most people don’t really want it (the military in communities). Working with communities is about giving them the help that they need versus coming in under martial law,” said Cato.

Even though the DA is a vocal proponent of bringing the military into communities affected by gang violence, it doesn’t mention this in its 2019 election manifesto.

Why would we want to use military force against the people that the military force should be protecting?” asks Carter. DM



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"It's always easier not to think for oneself. Find a nice safe hierarchy and settle in. Don't make changes. Don't risk disapproval. Don't upset your syndics. It's always easiest to let yourself be governed." ~ Ursula Le Guin