The Sunday Mail
There is need for concentrated efforts by police, public and official systems to curb crime which many believe is on the increase and certainly the load-shedding and transport woes have increased dangers at times and in places that were relatively safe.
Another factor is that some suburbs and communities have put in place simple but effective measures to deter crime, but without reducing the number of criminals. That means they tend to move into areas where there is less security giving apparent rises in crime. The obvious answer is to extend the areas with better security. While many victims of crime are critical of the police for not being on patrol at the time and place of the theft or mugging, we all have to realise that the police cannot be everywhere. But we also believe that as a start for better policing more active patrols are required.
At one time there were bicycle patrols in many urban areas. These were effective in suppressing crime. Police on the beat rarely make arrests, as very few criminals are stupid enough to commit a crime in front of police. What they do is keep criminals off the streets as well as being able to check up on suspicious people, for example someone carrying large bags or suitcases at midnight.
Neighbourhood watches and similar community efforts have also been successful in putting effective patrols on the street to deter crime. While these still exist in a few suburbs, enthusiasm waned in most areas. But they can easily be restored. All police stations have a community services officer who can help co-ordinate such volunteer efforts and ensure that everyone understands the fairly limited role of volunteers, to deter crime not to act as vigilantes doing the work of trained police officers.
But the public can do a great deal more with no effort. Thieves steal stuff to sell, not to use themselves. If everyone just thought seriously about what they were buying and where, the market for stolen goods could well vanish. Why would someone, for example, think that everything was on the up-and-up if they buy a very cheap second-hand phone from a vendor on the side of the road without a shred of documentation? They must at least suspect that they are the final recipient of stolen property.
At the same time rules and regulations for selling second-hand goods can be upgraded and enforced. There was a time when every dealer in second-hand goods kept a register of what they bought and sold with the names, ID numbers and addresses of the supplier and the eventual buyer recorded. These were open for inspection by the police and did help tremendously in recovering stolen property and arresting the thief.
Such system methods have worked exceptionally well in one area. Car theft used to be a serious and growing problem. It was largely defeated by making it impossible to sell or export stolen vehicles. Everyone is irritated by having to get police clearance before selling a car or driving out of the country, but that is the basic system that made car theft not worth the candle. At the same time an innovative judge, backed up by the Supreme Court when the appeal was heard, ensured that the basic sentence for car theft would start at around seven years jail, adjusted after hearing evidence in mitigation and aggravation. The combination of ensuring that stolen cars could not be registered or even licensed, killing the market and having a serious sentence for those who stupidly decided to take the risks almost wiped out the crime.
So bureaucracy can help cut crime, which is one reason to enforce rules for buying and selling second-hand goods. It would also be useful, of course, if people kept the serial numbers of their phones and other appliances so that the police checking up on properly kept records had something to work with. Any organised campaign against dealing in stolen property would require a lot of records.
Proper licensing and vetting of those dealing in second-hand goods would also help. There is no need to push pavement vendors into starvation, but if someone had a list of these people and their addresses and if they were forced to keep records as a quid-pro-quo for tolerance, they would be less of a conduit for stolen goods, especially phones, and more of a way to prevent such crime.
Other cultural changes have had positive effects on crime prevention. The scarcity of banknotes and coins has meant that few people have very much in their pockets or wallets, so pickpocketing has diminished as again few criminals want to go to jail for stealing someone’s bus fare. It also means that there has been a more determined assault on mobile phones, especially with the move to near universal ownership of smart phones. But those, unlike banknotes, have numbers and need a buyer. If records were kept and the honest majority refused to buy suspect phones that crime could be virtually eliminated.
We don’t think that crime needs to be tolerated directly or indirectly. But it is not something that the police can cope with alone, although they can and should do more. It requires every single person to co-operate and to help ensure criminals are kept off the streets and cannot profit from their crimes.