As the northern suburbs have mushroomed they’ve outstripped strained police resources to the point that communities rely increasingly on neighbourhood watches for protection.
Tabletalk spoke to the heads of two watches to find out what drives them to volunteer for an unpaid and often thankless job.
Table View Neighbourhood Watch (TVNW) chairman Grant Lemos started volunteering as a patroller in 2014 after a wall jumper got onto his mother’s property.
“By the time I got there, the Table View Neighbourhood Watch was already there, and I thought this was awesome to have this support,” said Mr Lemos.
The following month he joined TVNW but a few months later he left and signed up with Parklands Neighbourhood Watch(PNW), which had just started. He headed up the fund-raising portfolio.
“A difficult task” he said but one he managed to do.
A few months later, the PNW chairman at the time was suspended and Mr Lemos was voted in as vice-chairman.
“I didn’t know a lot, but I wanted to make changes. I wanted to work with the community policing forum (CPF),” he said.
He started sitting in at CPF meetings and realised the importance of a solid relationship between the neighbourhood watch and CPF.
After that Mr Lemos wore a number of hats including interim chairman of the Table View CPF while the current chirman was on business. He then became vice- chairman of the Table View CPF.
Last year he became the chairman of the TVNW after rejoining them.
“I love what I do. I feel like I’m giving back to SAPS and my community now more than before.”
The watch helps the Table View police in whatever way it can whether by donating torches to officers or repairing police vans.
Mr Lemos’ petrol bill amounts to a large amount every month due to his patrolling time averaging around 30 hours a week. This is besides admin and attending meetings, he says. But he doesn’t mind saying that there’s nothing to gain in his position but “everything to give”.
TVNW has about 600 members, of which some 150 are active. Whether they log in five minutes or a hundred hours is all the same to Mr Lemos, just as long as “you’re giving back”.
He believes neighbourhood watches, armed response companies and CPFs are pivotal in the country’s crime-fighting efforts, and that without them “crime stats would be through the roof”.
Mr Lemos says if given the opportunity to serve another year as chairman, he would like to continue with the projects he’s working on including an app where one can push a panic button on the phone alerting members to their location; and the option to log C3 notifications.
“I don’t care where I fit in. I just want to make a difference in my community. It’s not about you, it’s about the safety of your family and friends,” he said.
Summer Greens Neighbourhood Watch (SGNW) chairman Reagan Croeser served two years as the operations manager before being elected chairman last year.
He has lived in Summer Greens since 2004 and got involved with the watch when he noticed crime surge in his area.
“I couldn’t sit back and watch my area deteriorating. I have always been passionate about giving back to the community and felt that joining a street committee would be the first step.
“A few weeks later, I was invited to attend the neighbourhood watch meeting and since then haven’t looked back.”
In 2015 Mr Croeser bagged an award for innovation at the City of Cape Town’s first annual neighbourhood watch awards.
“It was an honour winning the award since there were so many entries and not only was I representing Summer Greens, I was representing the whole Milnerton cluster.”
He patrols around 40 hours a month besides emergency call-outs. The SGNW has about 45 active members, and Mr Croeser would like to see more residents join.
“I volunteer for this position because I feel I can make a difference. Actions speak volumes and people appreciate the effort I, along with the rest of the neighbourhood members, put in. You need to make the time. It’ a sacrifice, but a worthy one.”
Mr Croeser said fighting criming was as much about deterrence as anything else, and that was why a watch was so important.
“We are not there to stop crime from happening but to prevent it from happening. Due to our active patrolling and high visibility in the area, the community now sees the neighbourhood watch as the first point of contact instead of SAPS. Our purpose is to serve as the ears and eyes for the police”.