City spends R2m on enforcing by-laws

The City of Cape Town has budgeted an extra R2 million this year to help its law enforcement officers bring by-law breakers to justice.

Law enforcement issues thousands of notices each quarter for by-law transgressions, including illegal dumping, illegal trading, traffic violations, noise nuisances, among others.

Where Section 56 notices are issued — for example, when an offence is witnessed by an officer – the accused has the option to pay an admission of guilt fine or to appear in court to plead their case.

Where an accused fails to appear, a warrant is generated by the municipal courts and executed by law enforcement.

According to JP Smith, the City’s Mayco member for safety and security and social services, the three by-laws that generate the highest number of Section 56 notices are the Traffic; Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances; and Informal Trading by-laws.

In the first quarter of 2018, these three by-laws had accounted for three quarters of all notices issued. He said his department’s area-based staff executed warrants on behalf of the court section, but that took time away from their primary duties.

With the R2 million budget injection, the City would bulk up the resources in the court section so it could execute its own warrants. The City would also look at better way to confirm the identity of those caught for by-law transgressions.

“You can’t arrest an individual for a by-law transgression, so, when issuing the fine, officers have very little means to confirm whether the details they’re given are correct,” said Mr Smith.

“That then becomes a challenge when we reach warrant stage in a case and we can’t find the accused, because the particulars provided were false.

“So, we’re starting to look at using smart technology to assist us. This includes taking photographs of the accused, checking address details via Google Maps and so forth.

“Fortunately, all is not lost, particularly in cases of illegal dumping, where we are able to check details using a vehicle’s licence plate.

“Also, traffic by-law offences and those that happen at a fixed address, like flouting building regulations and noise and other nuisances, are also far easier to monitor and track the accused, in the event that they do not abide by the Section 56 notice.”

Mr Smith said the streets and public places by-law covered offences such as unbecoming conduct in public, and street people were most likely to be fined under that by-law. But because they were transient, it was hard to execute warrants and get them to court.

“Which means that we’re basically caught in a vicious cycle, because no matter the level of enforcement, there are no real consequences,” said Mr Smith.

“It is frustrating, and we are working very hard to see if there is any way to address this challenge.

“The recently launched Safe Space for street people is one way that we’re hoping to reduce the number of by-law transgressions in the CBD, because the space provides a spot to sleep, access to ablution facilities and other health and social services.

“While this space is still in its infancy, if it works as a concept, we could well be introducing safe spaces across the metropole in the coming years. By doing so, we’ll reduce by-law transgressions but also offer street people a step up into possible reintegration.”