"Neighbourhood watch is not a short-term project, it’s a way of life"
The Hout Bay Neighbourhood Watch has been nationally recognised as an amazing success story, where the community has come together to actively combat crime in one of the most beautiful coastal areas of the Western Cape.
Hout Bay started experiencing an escalating rate of crime from 2000 onwards. In 2003 the crime rate increased dramatically across all categories. Property related crime (i.e. housebreaking and theft out of vehicles) was skyrocketing. The Hout Bay Police worked extremely hard in trying to hold back the ever-increasing crime wave but with their limited resources, they struggled to control the situation. Reported crime statistics just kept on rising.
Enough is Enough - Neighbourhood Watch started
Following the callous murder of a Gauteng cyclist, who was staying in the village in order to participate in the Argus Cycle Tour in March 2005, residents of Hout Bay made it very clear that they were extremely unhappy about the upsurge in crime and that something drastic needed to be done. A meeting was convened and many hundreds of concerned residents effectively spoke with one voice - “enough is enough!”
Captain Gerhard van den Bergh of Hout Bay SAPS introduced the concept of the Neighbourhood Watch, but warned that he had seen similar projects started and had then seen the enthusiasm fade away after a couple of months. Gerhard made it very clear that “A community Neighbourhood Watch is not a short-term project, it’s a way of life – and the day you stop is the day that crime returns”.
Changed attitude toward crime
The Hout Bay community took up the challenge. The first thing that happened was the residents changed their ‘attitude’ towards crime. They decided to stop blaming, complaining and criticising each other. They would rather channel their time and effort into planning and holding fruitful and constructive meetings with a view to combating crime.
Another challenge was that Hout Bay is a microcosm of the demographic profile of the whole of South Africa, with every race, culture, creed and language represented.
Today, the Hout Bay Neighbourhood Watch enjoys tremendous support of local residents, as well as of SAPS, the Community Police Forum and the security companies. It has grown and continues to engender a community spirit, and definitely has become a way of life. Neighbours watching over neighbours is what it’s all about.
So what did the Hout Bay residents do to construct a successful HBNW?
- The Hout Bay & Llandudno Community Police Forum (CPF) initially approved the formation of HBNW as an ethical project.
- An effective management committee structure was created.
- Hout Bay was divided into 28 different Areas. These areas have subsequently been grouped into 8 operational Blocks.
- Decentralised coordination. Each area selected its own Area Leader, and Block Leaders were also appointed.
- A 24-hour emergency call centre, Watchcon, was established in Hout Bay.
- HBNW members were given the option of purchasing handheld 2-way radios, with direct access to Watchcon and to other members. In some areas, where members patrolled via formal roster systems, radios were made available for collection at specific pick-up points.
Within two months, the incidences of crime in the Hout Bay valley started to show a marked decrease. In fact, the crime rate dropped by over 60% in certain categories!
With the local community now covering many of the residential areas, the Police could, at last, start focussing their efforts on more serious issues, i.e. violent crimes and drugs.
A success story - our achievements
After a lot of hard work, and a huge commitment from everyone involved, Hout Bay Neighbourhood Watch has achieved the following:
An excellent and dedicated Management Committee, combining many talents.
Hout Bay residential areas divided into operating Areas, divided into Blocks, with Area Leaders forming the Executive Committee (EXCO) of HBNW.
Over 2000 dedicated members.
A highly effective radio system that operates by linking members to armed response security service providers, guarding services, SAPS and numerous on-call medical and emergency organisations – all tuned to the same Watchcon radio frequency.
A 24/7 manned radio control centre called Watchcon.
A huge increase in public awareness.
Positive cooperation between SAPS, the local armed-response security companies, Hout Bay Police Forum, HBNW and the media.
The advent of speedy reporting of suspicious behaviour by HBNW members and the general public has improved reaction times where suspicious behaviour has been reported.
Neighbours have come to know one another better, swapped phone numbers and made every effort to keep an eye out for each other.