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From ‘be on the lookout’ reports to helping a family get back to US, SA crime group has been ‘phenomenal’

22 December 2021 - 12:00
SA Community Crime Watch is often the first point of call for families when foreigners go missing in the country.
SA Community Crime Watch is often the first point of call for families when foreigners go missing in the country.
Image: supplied

It started on BlackBerry devices in 2012 when a group of Durban residents shared BOLO (be on the lookout) and crime reports to alert each other of the dangers lurking outside their homes.

Almost in its 10th year, SA Community Crime Watch (SACCW) is a registered non-profit organisation which helps solve hundreds of cases every year, and is often the first point of call for families when foreigners go missing in the country.

“SACCW Missing Persons Unit, our most field active division, undertakes not only the search in conjunction with law enforcement of missing persons or children, but also the locating, extraction and placement of human trafficking victims as well as locating and extraction of gender-based violence (GBV) victims” said its COO Mike Venter.

The organisation takes on more than 250 cases a year.

One of its cases this year was of a 45-year-old Seychelles resident who went missing in SA on October 17.

Locating is a priority as many missing persons are never found, with an unknown number landing up unidentified in the state mortuary system and never bringing closure to the families.
SACCW COO Mike Venter

The police in Crystal Park, Benoni, approached SACCW missing persons representative and Gauteng head Debbie de Beer for assistance in locating Lia Anita Adeline.

No private search options were available, which resulted in SACCW having to circulate a missing persons flyer through its networks across SA. Within 24 hours of the flyer being sent around, a member of pathology services in Delmas, Mpumalanga, recognised Adeline from the flyer and contacted the investigating officer.

Local family were notified and once positively identified, SACCW contacted Seychelles police and Seychelles Interpol to relay the news to family.  

“As sad as the end result was, locating is a priority as many missing persons are never found, with an unknown number landing up unidentified in the state mortuary system and never bringing closure to the families,” Venter said.

“Adeline lay unidentified from October 22 until flyer identification on November 17.  She was a victim of murder. The case is being investigated.”

In September, an American family contacted SACCW because they believed their 36-year-old daughter, her three-week old twins and 20-month-old son were being held under duress in SA.

“It was reported the woman had sent word to the US consulate in Cape Town out of fear for her children. The family’s location was confirmed and contact was made with the police national intelligence unit to assist with extraction. On September 7, the police proceeded to consult and extract while in consultation with SACCW. An emergency flight was undertaken by our field team from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

“Custody of the family was taken over by SACCW on arrival. They remained under our 24-hour protection and escort for three weeks while the necessary travel documentation was put in place for their safe return home. The mother and children were escorted to OR Tambo International Airport on September 29 after a four-month ordeal,” said Venter.

He said the organisation operates nationally and has built a large network of partners including the police, Hawks, metro police, Netcare 911, community crime forums, neighbourhood watches, NPOs and many security companies.

“Official partners include Unchain Our Children, National Freedom Network, in cases of human trafficking, and BlackStorm Africa, who sponsor artificial intelligence solutions in search of those missing, those sought and locating vehicles stolen or hijacked in service of law enforcement,” he said.

It is our reach and trust from both community and those with whom we serve that has helped our fight against crime.
Mike Venter

Their only challenge is financial support.

“SACCW, a registered entity with the social development department, receives no government or business support. We do not charge for our services and rely on donations, sadly seldom forthcoming. This has led to services being very limited, with our field service team currently grounded due to transportation cost challenges,” said Venter.

With two permanent staff and 56 volunteers and a following base of more than 150,000 on social media, SACCW works only under law enforcement instruction and adheres strictly to protocols.

“The organisation has gained much respect from the police and metro police based on our own operational protocols and support offered to these agencies. Communities are welcome to report anonymously to SACCW any criminal activity taking place. We report to the relevant agency. It is our reach and trust from both community and those with whom we serve that has helped our fight against crime.

“Our role has always been to serve SA as best we are able to.”

National police spokesperson Brig Vishnu Naidoo said the contributions and roles of SACCW and similar community-based organisations have been “phenomenal”.

“Crime Stoppers International recently awarded the police Crime Stop programme for a large number of successes which followed anonymous tip-offs from communities who had had enough. No crime takes place without someone, somewhere knowing something.

“There are many small community interventions never making the headlines, but we can be sure they touched and even changed lives. We want to continue to encourage people to be part of or a solution to addressing crime in our country,” said Naidoo.

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