11 July 2010

Reflections on crime - United we succeed

My last serious post on crime, It was a wet and misty morning, was written on 3 January 2009 and I feel the time has come to reflect on what has happened in Richmond Hill, since my first post Never give up on 8 September 2007.

If you want to read all the related posts just follow the Crime label in the side bar.

When you look around Richmond Hill you would be excused if you forgot that the suburb was like a war zone a few years back, because we have the lowest crime rate in the city today.

Richmond Hill has become very trendy with the many upgrades that have taken place. Stanley Street in particular, has many excellent new restaurants that attract patrons from all over the city. Sue and I often stroll down to Stanley Street for a meal. With the planned upgrades that are still in progress, Stanley Street promises to become the hub of the neighbourhood.

Stanley Street "cooking" this weekend

This weekend Alliance Fran├žaise organised a music festival that flowed from the restaurants in Stanley Street, through to Vovo Telo in Raleigh Street, Alliance Fran├žaise in Mackay Street and The Cafe Deli in Lutman Street. The vibe in the neighbourhood was fantastic, with visitors coming from all over the city. We even met some German soccer fans, who had come to watch the World Cup Soccer match between Germany and Uruguay and I am sure they will take back good memories of Richmond Hill.

The current mood can best be described in this morning’s report from the Crime Forum Chairman:

“From our point of view the world cup event has been a great success with very little to report in the line of criminal activities, only the one incident that I am aware of and those guys were taken care of. The feedback I have received from amongst the tourist has been very positive with a lot of pleasant comments flying around. Yesterdays music festival went off without any hitches and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves, maybe we could start something similar.”
Enjoying the vibe at the music festival

This is a far cry from where we were a few years back.

My September 2008 post was sparked by an article in the Port Elizabeth Express on the 29 August 2007, from which the headlines screamed, “Crime takes hold of Richmond Hill”. This was not a good advertisement for a suburb that is becoming quite trendy in the city, but it was not without justification.

At that point I was filled with a deep seated anger. My family had become victims of far too many crimes. We had thwarted a burglary in our complex in October 2006, in which Sue had been stabbed and were still waiting for the matter to come to trial. Our daughter’s car had been stolen; the radio had been stolen from Sue’s car; we had experienced a number of bad incidents at our business premises and the side window of my car had been smashed, to name a few.

See Crime, crime, crime for a chronicle of criminal incidents affecting my family.

Sue and I had reached a turning point a few months earlier, when we took a decision that we were not going to be victims any longer and resolved to become more involved in fighting crime and so became actively involved in the crime forum.

Our reasoning was simple. If as private citizens acting on our own, we had managed to get traffic calming measures installed in Richmond Park and security lighting installed around the Park, how much more could be achieved if we acted with the community.

The state of affairs in Richmond Hill at the time was bad:
The intersection of Callington Road and Richmond Park, became known as “Condom Corner”. It was where the guys who picked up the prostitutes came for a quickie. Anyone walking along that pathway had to pick their way through used condoms. The other hangout was the corner of Bingley and Newington Streets.

Mackay Street was a particularly bad area. Gangs walked up and down the street with impunity looking for opportunities. One would often come across the residents out in the street, late at night, in their pyjamas and dressing gowns, responding to alarms or calls from neighbours.

The corner of St Stephens and Mackay Streets was a hot spot for muggings and hi-jackings.

Campbell Street was also a hangout for the prostitutes, who after some persuasion eventually moved to Govan Mbeki Avenue and into Central.

Drug dealers openly peddled their wares in Campbell Street. Sue and I often spotted or interrupted drug deals going down in Raleigh Street (opposite the Russell Road College), Dollery Street, Bingley Street and in Newington Street, where the dealers from the Northern areas started competing for business with the local dealers.

Groups of youth would openly smoke marijuana in the park.

Sidewalk “parties” with loud music emanating from car speakers were not uncommon.

The streets were littered with smashed beer bottles left there by weekend revellers.

At night there was a continuous stream of cars speeding through the suburb ferrying drugs or prostitutes to “clients”.

Muggings were common practice and there had been rapes and even murder in the suburb.

Car theft was a regular event. On several occasions we stumbled across thieves photographing or recording details of cars they intended to steal. On one occasion it happened to be Sue’s Opel Kadett.
Faced with this situation the inclination could be to leave for safer pastures, but we became part of the new anti-crime initiatives and started participating in the weekend patrols in our own car from 2008. As a fifty something couple, the best we could do was observe and report.

We saw a lot while patrolling and often felt impotent and frustrated, especially when intercepting a drug deal or some other crimes and got no satisfaction from the 10111 call centre or from the police. But we hung in there and the community started to see their efforts bearing fruit.

From the information supplied by the teams, many drug dealers were identified and either left the neighbourhood or were arrested. We personally upset more than one drug dealer, by driving off their customers, especially the fellow who threw his stash over the wall of the Westbourne Oval.

Condom Corner and Bingley Street have were cleaned up. It is amazing how quickly a spotlight shining through a car window by a patroller put a guy off his stroke and soon they were no longer popular stopping off points.

Many of the prostitutes live in the area, but now pedal their wares elsewhere. Sue and I stopped patrolling in Govan Mbeki, when we realised that there was nothing we could do about the prostitution. It actually got to the point where the ladies of the night would cheerily wave and greet me with, “Hello uncle,” when we drove past. What could I do but smile and wave back.

Our attention was then turned to focussing on the common thieves wandering the streets and making life uncomfortable for them. Often it would be in response to a call from a resident that we would target these characters and we would follow them, until they left the area.

Musicians play where gangs once roamed freely

In about August 2008 the crime forum was delighted to be allocated one of eight i-Patrol vehicles donated by General Motors, for a year to assist in the fight against crime. What a generous gesture this was and a valuable resource. This was part of the i-Patrol anti-crime initiative launched by General Motors and Algoa FM.

The i-Patrol vehicle was immediately put to use and the crime forum moved to a different plane, under the leadership the of crime forum chairman Alan Mounter. He acquired two radios to improve communications and instead of one vehicle patrolling he arranged for two. He also improved contact with the neighbouring crime forums and the police.

Alan’s next step was to get a dedicated team together to do the patrolling. I felt left out to start with, but these guys are out at all hours of the day or night and have got to know who is who in the neighbourhood, both savoury and unsavoury. They also got to know the cars and will soon see when something is out of place or looks suspicious.

Now when they spring in to action it is like a well oiled machine and in cooperation with the police have had many successes and have “cleaned up” the neighbourhood. The rest of the community still operates as the eyes and ears of i-Patrol. We are just one cog in this machine.

I have had reason to call out i-Patrol on many occasions over the past year and all I can say is that the response has been excellent. A few of the many incidents that come to mind are thwarting the efforts of a metal thief; following up on the guys who, unwisely, decided to snort cocaine outside our front window; checking on suspicious cars at the park; dealing with the incident where a young woman was being beaten in the park; reprimanding the louts who were making obscene overtures to some young women in the park and intervening when two unsavoury characters were trying to break into our neighbours home.

Aside from the patrolling, i-Patrol is also involved in cleaning up the neighbourhood and projects with the neighbourhood children.

All in all the introduction of i-Patrol has been a great success and its availability to us has contributed to the community making Richmond Hill a better place to live.

We will probably never eliminate crime, but by being vigilant and working together we will certainly continue to make a difference. As local residents our thanks go out to Alan Mounter, for his vision energy and enthusiasm, in leading the team that has turned Richmond Hill from one of the worst crime ridden areas, into the safest suburb in the city.

1 comment:

Firefly said...

I know that a lot of neighbourhood watches can go and learn from you guys in Richmond Hill. Well done! Richmond Hill reallt does have the potential to become a restaurant and lifestyle hub.