South Africans turn to technology to fight crime

social media3Thanks to new social-networking apps, crime rates in Johannesburg – once the country’s crime capital – fall dramatically 

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa 

Residents of Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, are using phone apps and social networking sites to tip police off to crimes in their neighborhoods.

South Africa has a high crime rate, with 47 murders reported a day, according to 2013/14 crime statistics released by the Police Ministry.

“We are currently using WhatsApp groups to share information with the police crime intelligence unit,” Abdurrahman Ricky, head of the Greater Mayfair Safety and Security (GMMS) group, which patrols Johannesburg’s Mayfair suburbs, told Anadolu Agency.

Ricky says his non-profit organization has been asking residents of Mayfair and surrounding districts to join their WhatsApp group and report crimes in the area.

“Many criminals have been apprehended since we started using WhatsApp and BBM messages. As a result, crime is falling tremendously in our neighborhoods,” Ricky asserted.

He said the GMSS group began using the app one year ago and was now networking with police and other security groups.

“Some members of our group are police officers and security operatives. The group has been very efficient in our community,” he said.

According to Ricky, crimes reported by community members include carjackings, burgalaries and loitering.

“Whenever we get a tipoff, we alert the police and rush to the scene,” he said.

Johannesburg resident Omar Ali believes that using the apps has helped give residents greater peace of mind.

“Our community is now connected to the various apps; it’s easier to communicate with them and report suspicious activity, thanks to technology,” he said.

Ali said his car was stolen two years ago – before the community had begun using the apps.

“If we were as vigilant as we are today, I don’t think my car would have been stolen,” he told Anadolu Agency.

CCTV

Meanwhile, the introduction of closed-circuit tevision (CCTV) cameras has helped reduce crime rates in Johannesburg’s city center, which used to be regarded as the most dangerous area in the country.

Violent muggings, cash-in-transit heists and bank robberies – among other serious crimes – used to be common occurrences in Johannesburg. But since the introduction of CCTV surveillance, such crimes have fallen dramatically.

“CCTV cameras have helped the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) reduce crime in the city’s Central Business District,” JMPD Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnar told Anadolu Agency.

He said there were currently over 240 cameras covering all the streets of the city center, while the authorities were planning to install 60 more.

“The camera footage is monitored 24/7 by security operators in the control room. If they spot a crime, they alert police officers on patrol who rush to the scene,” he said.

According to Minnar, since the introduction of the CCTV cameras, there has been a decline in serious crimes like the bombing of automated cash machines (ATMs) and bank robberies.

He also said police use recorded CCTV footage to identify and prosecute criminals.

– ‘Without fear’

“The CCTV cameras have made it possible for us to go about our businesses freely without fear,” Johannesburg shop owner Mohammed Asim told Anadolu Agency. “Because we know security officers can retrieve the recorded footage and apprehend anyone who robs us.”

Yusuf Abramjee, who runs “Crime Line,” an anonymous crime tip-off service, agrees that technology is helping fight crime.

“There’s no doubt that technology is playing a major role in fighting crime in South Africa. We were the first country in the world to use SMS messaging to report crimes through anonymous tip-offs,” he told Anadolu Agency.

As a result of such anonymous tip-offs, Abramjee said, thousands of arrests had been made, while millions of rand worth of stolen goods had been recovered.

“The community has been very cooperative in giving us tip-offs to apprehend criminals and preventing crimes that would have occurred otherwise,” he added.

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