Neighbourly crime control

Issue 0

The Lonehill Residents' Association (LRA) is now probably the most active and organised volunteer residents' association in the country, a state it has reached in the last six years after 20 or so years of being like most other RAs.
In the late '90s, crime in Lonehill was out of control, and it was scant consolation that other areas were in the same predicament. Armed robberies, hijackings and worse were commonplace: two or three residents were killed every year in violent crime incidents. Finally, in mid-2000, an angered resident, Trevor Nel, who had had enough, started an aggressive, in-your-face campaign to do something about it. Nel's initiative led directly to the LRA in its current form and there is no doubt that through the efforts of the LRA over the last five years as many as 10 or 12 lives have been saved.
The key to getting control of our suburb was to leverage combined purchasing power. The fact was that we were spending hundreds of thousands of rand every month for multiple, uncoordinated security companies who saw their role as reactive, not preventative, and were patently ineffective in stemming the criminal rampage. We went out to tender to get a security company on board that was willing and able to provide more than reaction services. We wanted every home, road closure and townhouse complex to be linked into a common security network, with bobby-on-the-beat foot patrols, a coordinated and dedicated squad of reaction vehicles and our own local control room.
The process was kick-started, tragically, by a particularly horrific hijacking gone wrong that left a resident with seven AK-47 bullets in him (he miraculously survived, though at enormous physical, emotional and financial cost) and 70 more in his vehicle. Unfortunately it often takes a terrible incident to get people moving in the right direction, but we had a meeting where a couple of hundred people turned up and a volunteer core was formed. That core started the tendering process and defined a vision for where we wanted to go.
The next significant step was to raise funds so that the LRA could operate. We called for contributions to a capital fund of R1500 per household, and soon had a kitty of close to R500 000. The interest from the money (the capital was held in trust pending final approval of how best to use it), funded the operations for the initial months.
The third key step was to take control of our administration and directly contract with the residents, using our security provider as an outsource operation to whom we pay one cheque at the end of each month. To do this, we agreed on a deduction from the gross security payment to cover our admin costs (which we were taking away from the security provider) and appointed a company to manage it for us. This had two important consequences: it took administration away from volunteers who had limited time and resources and gave us full control of the money. The first addresses the problem of volunteer fatigue as enthusiasm dwindles; the second recognises that money is power - you may not like it, but it is an ineluctable truth.
Today, the LRA is a R15m per annum business, directly employing six people, and through contracts with service providers employs nearly 300 people providing security, administration, technical support and, most recently, marketing services. The core of our success is simply coordination and the power to say what we want from the security company instead of accepting what they want to offer.
Coordination makes a tremendous difference. If you have six independent vehicles in a 15 km² area, you can push your panic button and 'your' response vehicle is 4 km away (or in another area entirely), while a rival company's vehicle is around the corner and unaware of what is going on. We currently have four vehicles, two motorbikes, 12 foot patrols and over 60 complex and road closure guards all on a common radio network. Plus there are undercover agents feeding information in. We know we have prevented at least two robberies in the shopping centre.
We made mistakes along the way, one of which was a phase of being a touch over-proud of ourselves, and not working very well with the SAPS, but we have been cooperating much better with them over the last year and appreciate the support we get from them.
The results are clear. There is still crime in Lonehill, but we have contained it to well below the levels experienced in surrounding areas. In the last six years we have had one murder: not good, but prior to the LRA security initiative we would have expected at least a dozen in that time. We are achieving a steady long-term decrease in crime, although the beginning of 2006 has threatened our record, but armed robbery in particular has shown a surge throughout the area and we are getting some of the spillover.
We have not deployed technology in the form of cameras and monitoring systems, yet. Cost is a factor, but it is chiefly the cost of human monitoring to make them effective rather than the equipment cost; but we believe that as sector wages rise and equipment costs fall, we will soon be re-evaluating surveillance technologies. Fewer, higher-level people working shorter shifts are becoming relatively more affordable as wage structures change, and the advent of IP video surveillance offers many possibilities such as letting volunteer residents get directly involved in monitoring, doing virtual patrols without having to leave their homes; or to transmit video feeds directly to reaction vehicles as they respond; and to track suspicious persons and vehicles without having reaction vehicles rushing around searching for them.
For more information contact Dr Chris Crozier, 011 783 1508,


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