Criminals caught in the web
CRIME WATCH: Pmb suburb uses the web to protect its community
I WAS just a baby in a cot when my parents experienced their first and only break-in in Eshowe. Things didn’t end well for the intruder, who got a severe beating from my dad with a hockey stick before fleeing from the scene.
After a couple of late-night phone calls, my father and a friend were on the scene. They found the family motorbike wheeled halfway down the road and several household goods concealed in bushes along the street.
The next day the police reported that the intruder was in hospital — firmly clutching onto my mother’s pink purse, which he claimed to be his own. A court case followed and my father dropped all charges after learning of the criminal’s unfortunate background.
One might regard it as a mistake to let any criminal off the hook, but our house has never been targeted by criminals since. Perhaps that can be attributed to word of mouth on the intruder’s part.
The unique thing about living in a small town is the strong community watch that naturally develops. Everyone knows everyone, and most residents feel an inclination to watch out for one another’s safety. This is obviously more difficult in larger cities, but one area in Pietermaritzburg has been getting involved in preventing crime as part of a voluntary, web-based initiative.
The Lincoln Meade Community Watch
Innovative methods to stop neighbourhood crime are part of the mandate adopted by the Lincoln Meade Community Watch, which is known for radically reducing crime in the southern suburbs of Pietermaritzburg. Part of its success is attributed to an interactive website used to record criminal activity and disseminate this information quickly to the neighbourhood and police.
Lincoln Meade Features
The website allows users to register by providing a working e-mail address to ensure they can receive instant alerts daily, weekly or monthly. While the site allows users to set privacy levels, it is recommended that users share all their information so that residents in the same street can create a group list and quickly notify each other in the event of an emergency.
Streets and zones
The community watch area is divided into zones and streets. When members sign up they are assigned accordingly. The community watch then scouts the area looking to recruit zone and street leaders who are in charge of co-ordinating among neighbours. In the event of an incident occurring, one can simply log into the system and locate the closest registered residents and contact them. They in turn can be the eyes and ears until help arrives.
Members can also offer their time to patrol the streets and can use the system to log their patrol times as well as locate other patrols nearby. They can either join patrols or invite others to join theirs. The system accrues all patrol hours spent and the watch leaders ensure that all patrol contributions are recognised.
News and events
The site allows for news and events to be added on a regular basis. The three administrators who run the site can (at their discretion) e-mail the news to the database or simply leave it on the website. This has proven useful as some residents do not have Internet access. They do, however, have access to e-mail and can stay informed about the latest happenings. Events are logged and e-mailed in the same way using the online calendar.
This has proven to be the most popular part of the system. Incident reports allow the administrators to feed crime incidents into the system as they happen. These are e-mailed to every member so that residents can stay informed and alert about any crime occurring around them. This includes descriptions of the incident type, property stolen and suspect descriptions. Photographs of previously convicted suspects can also be attached for future identification.
“It is really fantastic to see how many people actually keep this information with them, says Wayne Janneker, chairman of the community watch. “The watch receives calls every now and then of reports of vehicles or suspects matching the incident description. In turn this information is passed around very quickly with further arrests being made.”
Additional functionality of the community watch includes an SMS database containing contact information about all residents and patrol member groups. Should there be an alert, such as a robbery in progress, an SMS is sent to residents warning them to be on the lookout.
Simultaneously an operation centre is established that picks up incoming information and liaises with the SA Police Service. A two-way radio network has also been put in place for patrollers to quickly pass on info while on patrol.
For tracking purposes, the system allows for SA Police Service Criminal Administration System (CAS) numbers to be added to incidents so it can later be referenced should there be further information provided.
This assists the SAPS and the watch by linking pieces of information together. A brief synopsis of the latest incidents reported is visible on the homepage.
Suspicious vehicles are also listed on the site. Users are able to download a printer-friendly version of such lists to keep with them in their cars or near their doors. If a vehicle is spotted they can contact relevant members. CAS numbers are also assigned to vehicle reports so that residents can inform the SAPS immediately and ensure a swift response.
“The system’s setup has been a vital link in our chain to combat crime,” says Janneker. “We constantly receive compliments from residents thanking us for continuous feedback”
The system currently allows for advertising so that the watch can raise funds to continue its efforts. Membership now consists of over 200 residents and has been building a strong community of crime stoppers over the last three years.
“Our plan for future growth is to get our neighbouring suburbs on to the same system and to release a mobile version of the website for cellphones,” says Janneker.
— Original article supplied.
Do you have a similar web service in your area?