This was the stern warning by SAPS Deputy Provincial Commissioner Major General Jan Scheepers, at a Letaba Safety Forum general meeting held on Wednesday. “Neighbourhood Watch, Farm Watch and other related organizations which fall under the local Community Policing Forums need to understand something very clearly,” he said.
“You are there to back up and assist your local police in the event of a crime, not the other way around.
The police are the law enforcers, and we cannot have this new tendency of security groups taking the law into their own hands. If you keep bypassing the police, you not only delay their reaction time and inhibit their efforts to do their jobs, but you could face charges of defeating the ends of justice.”
The meeting was held at the showgrounds and was attended by major role players within the safety and security fraternity from as far as Hoedspruit to Haenertsburg. The meeting was chaired by Ben van Coller with three Major Generals present as special guests. They included Major General Sheepers, Major General Maggie Mathebula the Tzaneen Cluster Commander, and Major General Mbazima Ngobeni, Giyani Cluster Commander.
Scheepers took a very harsh stance on the issue of social media and in particular the use of WhatsApp groups to spread information on serious crimes. According to him, social media is the biggest cause of cases going unsolved and criminals escaping prosecution. He also emphasised the dangers of rumour mongering and the spreading of false information over the various social media channels.
“WhatsApp groups should be limited to 10 or 15 individuals who are crucial to the operations of your particular farm watch or related group. There is no need to have 200 members of your community on a group meant for the purpose of emergency response to a crime. No, I repeat, no photographs or videos of crime scenes or suspects are permitted to be shared over WhatsApp or any social media platform as it can result in the case being thrown out of court immediately.” Major General Mbazima Ngobeni reiterated the statement by mentioning that criminals also have access to social media and that reckless distribution of information can be used by them to evade capture.
“In the recent case of mango theft in Ofcolaco, messages were shared on all these WhatsApp groups calling for all the farmers in the area to rush to the scene to help. Criminals intercepting these messages immediately know that all security companies and farm watch groups along with the police are now in that one place and they then hit other areas with the knowledge that they will not face any resistance. Stop this WhatsApp business for everyone’s benefit because it is creating more havoc than good.”
Focussing specifically on the dangers of WhatsApp groups, Scheepers explained that should a photograph of a suspect in a crime be circulated to hundreds of people via this platform, the suspect will not be identifiable in an identity parade and will then be set free after his arrest “If you identify him in a police line-up, the criminal will walk free because you could have seen him before and that means your testimony cannot be trusted.”
The same goes for photographs of crime scenes. Only police detectives can enter a crime scene and it is off-limits to the general public because of the threat of contaminating the scene. “Circulating images of the crime scene places the scene in the public eye and completely counteracts the investigation as that scene is considered contaminated. Evidence from that scene can no longer be used in the investigations which means that through sharing images and videos to nosy group members you have effectively obstructed the investigation.”
During the meeting the various roles of security companies, first responders, farm and neighbourhood watch groups were discussed in detail. The role of the CPF and how it is formed was highlighted in order to clarify the issue. “I find it funny that every second person now runs a CPF group when in reality this can never happen. The CPF is a legal group that must be established by the station commander as instructed by law. It consists of only five to seven members who each represent a specific safety group such as a neighbourhood or farm watch group. The only task of the CPF is to act as a link between the community groups and the police. Nothing else.”
Many other topics were discussed with the inputs from the top brass present, but the crux of the meeting was simple. “Know your place in the structures and follow the chain of command to ensure that crime in your area is dealt with effectively and immediately. Do not act outside the parameters of the law, or you could be arrested yourself.”
Source: GOS and Waterval veiligheid information groups.