Police clampdown on gangs gets mixed reactions

Some Bishop Lavis residents do not support initiative

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Photo of Bishop Lavis police station
Bishop Lavis police have launched a new initiative against gangs. Photo: Masixole Feni

Bishop Lavis police have been distributing pamphlets with the names and addresses of the “most wanted” gangsters and drug dealers in the area. But some residents do not support the initiative.

The pamphlets are part of a campaign to clamp down on gangsterism and the drug trade.

“People in these communities know a lot more than we do. Most of the time the community members know exactly where the gangsters and drug houses are. Now, we are asking for their help,” said Brigadier Christopher Jones, Bishop Lavis station commander.

Jones, who has been heading the station for six years, said the initiative was part of the Western Cape police’s Operation Combat. The campaign uses specialised police against gang leaders and against corrupt police officers.

According to police statistics, gang violence contributed to 16% of the murders and 39% of the attempted murder cases recorded over the last year in the Western Cape. As well as Bishop Lavis, Manenberg, Elsies River, Mitchells Plain, Atlantis and Steenberg also reported a high level of gang-related crimes.

“The violence started flaring up badly three years ago. We saw direct links between Bishop Lavis and some of the other areas like Manenberg and Mitchell’s Plain where gang violence is high. Some of the most notorious guys started here,” said Jones.

Bishop Lavis police patrol a large district of poor communities which include Bonteheuwel, Netreg, Valhalla Park and Kalksteenfontein, with a population of just over 106,000 residents (2011 census).

Jones said police officers, in unmarked cars and dressed in casual wear, had been sent into the area to hand out the pamphlets in an attempt to engage with residents. Cellphone numbers are on the pamphlets to encourage residents to call police officers.

While many people have welcomed the initiative on the station’s Facebook page, Jones said the recent actions had “surprisingly” not been welcomed by everyone.

He referred to an incident last month when residents had blockaded a road during a police operation.

On 10 February, police had received information about rival gangs shooting near Netreg train station. After a car chase and crossfire on Robert Sobukwe Road, police arrested a member of the 28s gang, the biggest gang in the area, who was in possession of an Uzi machine gun with ammunition.

A group of community members then blockaded the road with burning tyres and began throwing stones at police.

“Once we had that suspect, we wanted to go after the other three armed suspects. Before we could go into the area, ordinary residents started throwing stones at us and the motorists who were standing in morning traffic,” he said.

“I honestly couldn’t believe what happened. We had nine cases opened with over R1 million’s worth of damage to the public’s cars who had nothing to do with what was happening,” he said.

Jones said the incident showed how embedded the gangsters were in their communities.

“Some community members are being cared for by these gang bosses”, he said, referring to one gang leader who handed out R100 notes to children. “Many of our people live in really impoverished situations and this makes me so sad. These poor communities are easy targets for these gangsters because they pay for loyalty,” he says.

When GroundUp visited the area, most people welcomed the police’s efforts but others were critical.

Bishop Lavis resident Sheryl Jordaan said her home had been raided by police twice in the last three months.

“A few weeks ago, they told my aunt that they got information that we are keeping drugs. They searched our whole house and didn’t find anything,” she said.

“They explained to us that if a gangster stays next to you or in your road then you are also a criminal. They don’t go by the real merchants’ houses. It’s wrong that they only go to innocent people’s houses,” she said.

Police raid innocent people’s houses, says Bishop Lavis resident Sheryl Jordaan. Photo: Masixole Feni

Another resident, who asked not to be named because she was scared that gangsters would target her and her family, said the police were not doing their work.

“They’ve been asking the community to tell them where the drug houses are, but that’s not our job. We will be putting our lives at risk and they go home at the end of the day.

“They must go look for the drug houses themselves. If we say something, it’s our lives and the lives of our families that are in danger,” she said.

The 54-year-old woman said gangs were now going to schools in the area to recruit new members.

“There is no work or activities for the youngsters in this community. The gangsters go to the schools and ask the kids which gang they want to belong to. It’s ridiculous, but what can we do?” she says.

Jones said part of the police initiative was to educate people about the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

“The Act states that if you store stuff for gangsters, you can be arrested. No matter if you are an old granny or a young child. We now know that drug dealers are using the homes of neighbours to store their stuff, so we try and do regular raids,” said Jones.

He said the cycle of young children being recruited into a gang needed to be broken and the departments of Social Development, Sports and Recreation and Education should provide alternatives for the children.

Jones called on Cape Flats residents to support the #gangsterismmustfall campaign and to boycott drugs, particularly tik, from local drug dealers.

“Most of these people are poor, but certain known drug houses still manage to make R10,000 a month in profit.”

TOPICS:  Crime

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