First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

We write for you

It’s a public service and we refuse to erect a paywall and force you to pay for truth. Instead, we ask (nicely and often) that those of you who can afford to, become a Maverick Insider and help with whatever you can. In order for truth not to become a thing of the past, we need to keep going.

Currently, 18,000 (or less than 0.3%) of our brave and generous readers are members; which says a lot about their characters and commitment to our country. These people are paying for a free service in order to keep it free for everyone.

They are the true South AfriCANs.(Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves.)

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Long Street is like party streets the world over – a...

South Africa

OP-ED

Long Street is like party streets the world over – a magnet for petty thieves, hustlers, chancers and conmen

Long Street and other areas of the CBD, especially those with abundant nightlife, feature some characters you just wouldn’t take home to your mother, says the writer. (Photo: Jorge Láscar / Flickr)

Cape Town’s Long Street is full of bars, clubs, tourists and young revellers, many of whom have had far too much to drink. This kind of environment, unfortunately, is a boon for petty criminals anywhere in the world.

Recently, veteran journalist Raymond Joseph spent a night out with friends in Cape Town’s ode to a misspent youth, Long Street. The evening was marred when his group became the target of petty criminals who relieved them of a cellphone. Joseph penned an article about the experience and rightly shed light on the fact that Long Street and other areas of the CBD, especially those with abundant nightlife, feature some characters you just wouldn’t take home to your mother.

As head of Safety & Security for the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), I know Long Street and its characters – good, bad and ugly –like the back of my hand. I would like to add to the dialogue on the central city, which Joseph has begun, by also citing what work is being done by public and private agencies to help keep citizens safe and businesses viable in the area.

But first, I’d like to sound a word of caution on the language deployed to talk about crime, particularly on Long Street and in the CBD. Sadly, South Africa has high levels of criminality, often tragically violent. There can hardly be any among us who is not highly literate on the various types of crime and what those crimes constitute when committed.

I believe, therefore, in the context of South Africa, that there exists a duty to call a spade a spade when things go wrong on Long Street. The area is full of bars, clubs, tourists and young revellers, many of whom have had far too much to drink. This kind of environment, unfortunately, is a boon for the hustler, chancer and conman anywhere in the world. Invariably, when someone is relieved of property, be it cash or cellphone, what is immediately reported to authorities in panicked tones is: “Some guys robbed me!”

The word “robbed” in Mzansi conjures an image of violent and forceful crime against one’s person. From my many years of experience patrolling Long Street and the CBD for the CCID, I know that the vast majority of these property crimes take place through distraction, pickpocketing or plain taking advantage of the worse-for-wear.

I do not make this distinction to minimise or lessen the seriousness of property crime in the area. I make this distinction because the South African Police Services (SAPS), City Law Enforcement and the CCID need this accuracy or differentiation to monitor and track levels of physically violent crime in the areas we patrol so that we can deploy resources appropriately.

So, who is there, over and above SAPS, to watch over revellers and protect them from criminals working on Long Street and in the CBD? The CCID has a team of 300 public safety officers (PSOs), 20 City of Cape Town Law Enforcement officers (LEOs) and six traffic officers deployed on a rotational shift basis. This equates to an average of 90 PSOs, five LEOs and five response vehicles deployed per shift throughout the CCID’s operational footprint in the CBD.

Our PSOs are equipped with two-way radios for uninterrupted internal communication and body-worn cameras to record incidents, which can be reviewed. They have the same powers of arrest as those of any private citizen: they can make arrests for Schedule One offences, which are serious crimes including murder, rape, hijacking and the like. Furthermore, we contract the services of City LEOs who have peace officer status. This allows us to enforce by-laws, non-moving traffic violations and conduct “stop-and-search” operations.

Our officers are deployed throughout the CBD, within the jurisdiction and footprint of the CCID, to provide a visible presence to help prevent crime. We also have a reaction team that pursues criminals after a crime has been committed, in addition to a highly technical ops centre.

The CCID has strict protocols in place and we take complaints against our PSOs seriously. They do not operate with impunity. Complaints are investigated, and feedback is given. If a member of the public witnesses a CCID officer behaving inappropriately, they should record the date, time and nature of the incident, and the PSO’s bib number, and let me know. I will launch an official investigation.

Our primary concern, however, is that most agencies face a lack of resources. Both SAPS and the City do not have sufficient bobbies on the beat to effectively secure the CBD. The CCID, which provides top-up services to these agencies, has, therefore, had to invest heavily in additional resources to complement the starved agencies and to bolster the visible presence of safety officers on street level. The rationale is that no criminal will commit an offence in the presence of visible police, law enforcement or public safety officer. That said, the CCID also has resource constraints and cannot deploy security everywhere all the time.

Policing of minor offences has also become slack, with disastrous effect. There are no longer repercussions for bad behaviour, for people committing so-called “B crimes”. Wily criminals have picked up on this, and are pushing the limits to see how much they can get away with.

Social issues also play a major role in the perception of areas not being safe. Aggressive begging, which has become a serious problem, adds to the fear of being attacked. This cannot be policed away and requires social intervention strategies by public and private agencies.

By way of example, the CCID Social Development department, in conjunction with local businesses and Streetscapes, a work-based programme run by the NGO Khulisa Social Solutions, has spearheaded a project in Long Street aimed at providing known homeless individuals with work, for which they will receive remuneration and training, in a bid to reduce aggressive begging in Long Street.

Another example is that of TBHIV Care which has partnered with the CCID to employ recovering drug addicts to pick up and dispose of discarded drug paraphernalia in the CBD.

Negligence by the public is a factor in attracting criminal elements to the area. I am continually aghast at the vast number of people who leave extremely valuable items visible in cars, fail to check if their doors are locked and are then flummoxed when these items are stolen. Likewise, cellphones and bags are left unattended in bars and clubs, yet people are shocked when they disappear.

People need to be vigilant and take responsibility. We need to prevent crime from happening in the first place. Join your Neighbourhood Watch, attend Sector Policing meetings in your area and act as the eyes and ears of the primary law enforcement agencies by reporting suspicious behaviour, not ignoring it.

No one should go it alone in any community. The same holds true for the community of Long Street and the CBD. It’s a vibrant community, with saints and sinners. As in any comparable area internationally, keep your wits about you, don’t make yourself an easy target for con men and petty thieves and, if something goes wrong, look for the helpers. We are there. DM

Report crime in the CBD to the CCID 24-hour emergency number – 082 415 7127 – for an immediate response seven days a week. You can also send a WhatsApp message to that number. Muneeb can be contacted by emailing him on [email protected]

Gallery

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted