New app helps watches curb crime

The City of Cape Town has unveiled a new system at the Goodwood traffic-control centre to boost emergency response times and communication between neighbourhood watches across the city.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, was at the Transport Management Centre (TMC) last week to show how the neighbourhood watch dispatch system works.

It uses base radios as well as social media apps, such as WhatsApp, Link and Telegram to let 76 watches speak to each other and the control room.

Telegram was launched in 2013 by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, the founders of Russian VK, Russia’s largest social network.

The neighbourhood watches stay in touch with the control centre through a radio network of 14 strategically placed cluster radio base sets given to them by the City. These Tetra radios have been operational since September 2016.

The Goodwood control centre can evaluate reported incidents and call for support from emergency services, including the police, traffic authorities, law enforcement and Metro ambulance.

Neighbourhood watch members, said Mr Smith, outnumbered the police and harnessing their power through the dispatch system was “a step toward tripling our capacity”.

He said Telegram did not allow users to copy cellphone numbers or images.

“Overall the data integrity is far better than other apps,” he said.

Ebrahiem Kasker is a radio controller at the TMC. He started off working for his local neighbourhood watch, the Parow Crime-Fighters (Pacrif), before being approached in March to take up the post.

“I am passionate about my community. I have been living in Parow Street for 20 years. Over the last several years, drug dens have become a huge problem in my neighbourhood to the point where people are afraid to walk in the streets. We have also witnessed many vagrants with trolleys frequenting those alleged drug houses,” he said.

Mr Kasker said one Parow Street drug den, in particular, continued to be a headache and there were also brothels in Carstens and Cloete streets.

Trevor Kirby, team leader of the neighbourhood watch control room at TMC and chairman of Pacrif said: “Over the last six years, the drug den issue has escalated.”

Clinton Roux, chairman of the Tygerdal Neighbourhood Watch, said he and deputy chairman Eugene Nourse had been using Telegram for two and a half months.

“From a technical aspect, we love the app. It’s much more secure, and it doesn’t use up space on your phone. The response time to crime is also almost immediate.”

He said he would have to liaise with Mr Kirby before a decision was made on whether to roll the app out to all 50 of the watch’s active patrollers.

“If we do roll it out, it will be to key members initially,” he said.

Mr Smith said the app had proven its worth out in the field. Parow North Neighbourhood Watch used the Telegram to help with a bomb threat at a local primary school; Parow Valley Community Neighbourhood Watch reported a robbery, and it led to a quick arrest and the recovery of stolen property; Pacrif reported an armed robbery in Ruyterwacht; and a Goodwood Neighbourhood Watch report of a break-in helped to net three suspects.