Enforcing the law ‘a sham’

Athina May

The City’s safety and security boss has described traffic enforcement in Table View and other parts of Cape Town as a “sham” with Metro police spread far too thin, illegal taxis left to run rampant and courts paralysed by huge volumes of traffic offences.

There was also no way to prosecute homeless people who broke the law, JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, told a public meeting at the Blouberg library on Thursday May 5.

He painted a bleak picture of a City under-resourced and hamstrung by national government, leaving it with limited capacity to manage its homeless population and tackle traffic offenders.

“There is nothing a guy in uniform can do to stop the homeless. There is no way a policing person can make the homeless not be homeless. They do not have money to pay for a fine and have no fixed address,” Mr Smith told the meeting of approximately 40 people.

“There is an appointment notice for a peace officer when they’re employed that says that peace makers cannot fine someone without a fixed address, only SAPS can arrest them; the national minister needs to amend this appointment. It explicitly prohibits us from arresting the homeless. They’re a group of people whose offences are largely untouchable.”

Mr Smith said he had drafted a by-law in 2007 to protect the city’s streets and public places from vagrancy, but it had been sunk by objections and a lack of support.

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Limited resources plagued the City’s efforts to check illegal taxis and other traffic offenders.

“It’s a sham; there are two to three Metro police vehicles for an eighth of the city. We don’t have the beginnings of resources to handle illegal taxis. You can only spread so many people so far. But the problem is not with enforcement, but with the courts. The system can no longer process the volumes.

“We paid for three extra magistrates to be employed for traffic court, but we cannot properly resource the court, and ratepayers cannot tolerate a 27 percent rates increase to get more personnel.”

He claimed the courts could only handle 10 percent of traffic offences.

Nevertheless, Mr Smith noted that the City had improvised some initiatives to counter the lack of resources.

“We’re finding interesting ways to clamp down on issues. Lots of people are watching to see whether we’re spending our money efficiently,” he said.

One such initiative is the Emergency Police Incident Control programme, or EPIC, which electronically logs all emergency calls, tracks available resources and dispatches the closest ones along the fastest routes.

An auxiliary law enforcement service is also helping to get more boots on the ground.

Mike Channing of the Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) addressed Mr Smith saying data taken on Blaauwberg Road showed that at any given day there were 126 taxis an hour on it.

“There are two taxis per minute. The numbers are not reduced, it remains the same. They have no roof markers or licensing.”

Mr Smith said taxi violations had to be seen in the context of other law enforcement issues the City faced.

“You cannot tell people writing a ticket for taxis is more important than bullets flying in their homes.”

After the meeting, residents took to Facebook to comment on some of Mr Smith’s remarks. On the Table View Frustrated Ratepayers’ group, Stephen Stauch said: “As long as you appear as ‘homeless’, and don’t provide an address when you’re arrested so they cannot fine you, then everyone should literally be in a position to get away with anything.”

Carol Cunningham said: “Nothing can be done about the vagrants. They are untouchable. They cannot be arrested for violation of the by-laws. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but residents must just get over it and move on. JP wrote a by-law with ‘teeth’ for streets, public places and prevention of noise, but there were 218 objections and 13 letters of support. The ratepayers must come to the party.”

Alex Lepnik said: “He (Mr Smith) is the Master of Excuses. Go to Langebaan or Struisbaai. No Vagrant / No Work seeker / No Taxi in Town. No rubbish.”