Watch in war of words

A street patrol in Table View has come under fire for asking for donations in a letter using the Table View Neighbourhood Watch logo.

A private security regulatory body has threatened to lay charges against unregistered patrollers using a letter with a Table View Neighbourhood Watch (TVNW) logo on it to ask for money.

The watch has distanced itself from the patrollers and suspended two of its members whose names were linked to the letter.

Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSiRA) spokesman Mpho Mofikoe said the patrollers were not registered with PSiRA.

It is illegal to render a security service for “remuneration, reward, a fee or benefit” if not registered as a security service provider under the Private Security Industry Regulation Act.

“We will charge them for contravention of the PSiRa Act and its code of conduct,” said Ms Mofikoe.

David Harris, chairman of the Table View Community Police Forum called the letter “fraudulent”.

“Anyone would think it came from the TVNW. It’s been totally misrepresented,” he said.

Meanwhile the TVNW has faced criticism from some in the community who feel the unregistered patrollers, who call themselves Watsonia Street Patrols, were doing a good job.

And those behind Watsonia Street Patrols argue they are being victimised by the TVNW, which they claim is still smarting after a Watsonia patroller filmed people who appeared to be TVNW members allegedly assaulting a homeless woman late last year.

Last week residents of Watsonia, Brander, Dolphin, Mossel, Cowrie, Spray, Seemeeu, Foam, and Albatros streets received a letter in their postboxes urging them to join the Watsonia Street Patrols.

The letter says a volunteer patrols the nine streets between 10pm and sunrise and it asks for a contribution of R250 a household a month.

“Please note, preference when patrolling will be given to those houses that are contributing. Please encourage your neighbours to contribute,” reads the letter.

It gives banking details and asks residents to use their street address as a reference.

It also gives the details of the Watsonia WhatsApp group. At the bottom of the letter is the TVNW logo with its contact details and bank account details.

TVNW chairman Grant Lemos said the logo and details on the letter misled the public into thinking the watch supported the initiative when that was not the case.

However, Andre Wollheim, who runs the Watsonia Street Patrols and is the author of the letter, said he had been using it for about three years.

Mr Wollheim, a former TVNW member and street captain, resigned from the watch after being suspended last week for distributing the letter.

“We had a really good working relationship with the previous TVNW chaiman and have been using the same document going back to early 2015 which had the TVNW logo on it.

“The idea back then was to encourage all our street members to join TVNW, so the logo was to promote TVNW and not to exploit money as they are making out,” said Mr Wollheim.

He said a Watsonia Street patroller’s dash cam had caught TVNW members assaulting a homeless woman close to Brander Avenue and Crinum Street last year. The patroller had taken the footage to the media which had embarrassed the TVNW.

“TVNW had egg on their face and they blame us for it,” said Mr Wollheim, who added that soon afterwards some TVNW patrollers had verbally abused a Watsonia Street patroller in a late-night incident also caught on dash cam.

Dietmar Rheeder-Kleist, who was also suspended from the TVNW as his name and number appear on the letter as the street captain of Watsonia Street, said he had never seen the letter before and had not known his name and contact details were on it. However, he said, he supported Watsonia Street Patrols and he claimed TVNW’s response to the letter was a “smokescreen and cover-up of the assault that the patroller witnessed and videoed”.

But Mr Lemos said the issue with the assault had been laid to rest and the TVNW members cleared of misconduct following a meeting with, among others, the Table View SAPS, the community police forum and the TVNW executive committee.

He said the letter asking for money was a clear breach of the TVNW constitution.

“As a watch member, you are not entitled to make any money from members within the organisation. You may not ask for money. You may only ask for donations,” said Mr Lemos.

He said the patroller mentioned in the letter was not a TVNW member but Mr Wolheim and Mr Dietmar were and had been asking for money on his behalf.

“They have no right to use any branding of the TVNW. They thought if they put TVNW, our brand, there they would get a quick response from the community. That’s what it’s about,” said Mr Lemos.

He has reported Watsonia Street Patrols to PSiRA, the Department of Community and Safety and SAPS among others.

When Tabletalk pressed Mr Wollheim shortly before deadline for an explanation as to how he could have sent out a letter asking for money when the law was so explicit, he said they had “consulted two people in the security industry” who had said it would not be necessary for the patroller to be PSiRA registered because he had no employment contract, only received a “donation” to cover expenses and simply patrolled without performing a “direct security function”.

But he then admitted that “We had a meeting with SAPS, TVNW and CPF in December where we discussed this around the table and we did agree that it was a contentious issue as he is still receiving payment even if it is a donation.

“We agreed then to send him to get PSiRA certified to put the matter to bed. Unfortunately the PSiRA training centres closed for the holidays and we weren’t able to get it done. He is currently busy with the certification and we expect to have it finalised by the end of the month.”

He said a PSiRA-certified security guard from Vizual Security had been hired to stand in for the usual patroller.

It was not immediately clear, though, why Mr Wollheim had continued to send out letters as late as last week asking for donations for the “volunteer” when the PSiRa registration issue had been raised with him as early as December.

Department of Community Safety spokesman Ewald Botha said the department “had no legal mandate” over the Watsonia Street Patrols, as it was unaccredited, but there was nothing stopping the TVNW from distancing itself from it.