S. Africa’s response to crime

Your commentary («Wrong answer,» August 12) on escalating crime in Athens and the government’s «rural» response to it reminded me of the untenable situation of high crime that has plagued South Africa for so long. What we have found in Johannesburg (which was considered our «crime capital» for years), is that the answers in crime prevention lie in a complex tapestry that involves everyone – particularly the community itself. If you don’t want crime on your streets, you have to reclaim them. We all have mobile phones and strong gut feelings. We know if something doesn’t smell right. The other thing is not to buy into the panic and feed the criminal energy with your fear. Crime is escalating; fair enough. It is not unstoppable. South Africa had a history of lawlessness – the fundamental violation that was apartheid, of course, generated an equally violent response. The culture of crime and violence that was born then is still withdrawing now. Greece does not have that culture. It can stop this. What it will take is collaboration – between people, authorities, between technology and crime prevention initiatives. In South Africa, many suburbs had «neighborhood watches» for years and had reported any suspicious activities to the relevant authorities. In Greece this is even simpler; people are on the street already. It’s just their mindset that must shift a little. Technology too is a fantastic tool. The Johannesburg central business district had a crime problem for years. Then we put in surveillance cameras in key locations. No need for policemen everywhere – just a small tactical rapid response team with a direct link to the call center monitoring the cameras. Muggings were down 90 percent within months. Another phenomenal tool is the coordinated contact between business, city authorities and the police. In South Africa, «Business Against Crime» has for years been a powerful organization, generating interest in and money for crime prevention. Police stations were remodeled at no expense to government, while regular forums between local business people, local authorities and the police started unearthing a wealth of local insight on neighbourhood crime patterns and known hoodlums. Anti-crime advertising campaigns and public messages were created and broadcast on radio and TV. Essentially, we went public. Also, the power that grew when seemingly unrelated municipal departments starting to talk to each other was unbelievable! The Department of Housing and the Police began to collaborate. Known slums were targeted. Many people were arrested. This was based on the British model, pioneered by an organization called «Common Purpose» whose goal it was to get all the parts of a functioning city to talk to each other.  There are ways to slow down crime. Crime stops when everyone who matters – including civil society and the media – are talking about it. Coming from where I do, if you ask any of us what one of the most wonderfully blessed things about Greece is, it is the knowledge that there you walk on the streets with no fear. This lack of fear is what make «Elladitsa» so truly special for me, and the fear must not come now. If anything, there must be indignation! With the proper application of the right thinking and the proper tools, things can change. The deepest lesson I have learned, though, is that crime follows poverty and exclusion. An all-inclusive approach in both fighting crime and eliminating its breeding ground is the only thing that can work. Strato Copteros, South Africa