Although neighbourhood watch became a familiar face in South Africa’s neighbourhoods during the 90’s, there are more practical suggestions that can assist in making a neighbourhood safer.  However, this requires involvement by those living in that neighbourhood, and often asks for someone to take the lead in addressing issues that can jeopardise the neighbourhood’s safety.

  • Know your neighbours:  especially those living next to you (across the street) and those staying behind you.  Know their names and their telephone numbers, as well as other information which will assist one another in determining if something seems out of order at their houses.
  • Talk to people:  everyone is concerned about crime and safety; ask them to join you in finding constructive ways to make your neighbourhood safe.
  • Ask yourself and others what a safe place would look like, what would be happening there, what would be different from the way it is now – try and construct a vision of a safe neighbourhood and then think about ways you can achieve that vision.
  • Remember that if you ask a security question you will likely get a security answer.  Asking about neighbourhood safety should include a whole range of options, not just about security.
  • Arrange a walk for as many people in the neighbourhood as possible and map the area together, identifying problems, solutions and opportunities.
  • A problem may be an uncovered manhole or a patch of road where there are overgrown bushes or grass.
  • A solution may be a task group who will take up the matter with the local municipality and follow through until it is fixed, or who will fix the problem themselves, covering the manhole or putting up a warning sign, or cutting back the bushes.
  • An opportunity may be an unused open space.  With a little effort and the necessary permission from the municipality or land owner; it could serve as a meeting place or recreational area where locals can walk, jog or watch their children play in safety.
  • Start a walking, jogging or cycling club; put together a simple roster of times when people can exercise together in the neighbourhood.  Based on who lives where, plan a route with stops and pick up or drop people along the way.  The more people around at different times of the day, the safer your streets.
  • Create a safe meeting place for children who are unoccupied in the afternoons and make sure there is always a trusted person home to welcome them.
  • Exchange telephone numbers and agree on an emergency protocol for example what to do and when to know if there is a housebreaking, armed robbery or fire, if an alarm goes off or if a child needs them.  Agree on a support network for when someone comes home alone late at night; know what normal activity is and what is not.
  • Develop a simple template together with your neighbours for information (eg ID number, contact details, criminal record) about workmen who will be working in the neighbourhood, who that person is, what his/her skills are and when the job will be done.  Circulate the reference, good or bad so neighbours know whether or not to hire that person to do similar work for them.
  • Get to know the young people in your neighbourhood and try to establish what talents or skills these youngsters have.  We often assume that young people are the problem and not part of the solution, but we need to shift our expectations of them and change the way we interact with them if we want them to contribute in a positive way.  Make demands and affirm good behaviour – be slow to criticise and quick to praise.  If a young person feels respected, s/he has that respect to protect – if s/he is not respected, their bad behaviour has no real consequences.
  • Share information; meet with others in your neighbourhood and bring along information to discuss important issues such as drug abuse, domestic violence, social grants etc

It is important that any community safety initiative be discussed with the Sector Commander (appointed police officer for each sector) as they are more effective when the police know about them and work hand-in-hand with them.

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