Universities enter partnership with police to curb crime

In a bid to deal with crime plaguing South African campuses, South Africa’s universities have entered into a long-term partnership with the national police service that will see closer collaboration to ensure the safety and security of university communities across the country.

Universities South Africa, the membership organisation representing South African universities, announced the partnership in a statement last week. The partnership follows a meeting – initiated by Universities SA – between themselves, the South African Police Service, or SAPS, and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

According to the statement, the meeting on 27 July followed reports of a “spate of [criminal] incidents, including acts of gender based harm, murder, crime, the abduction of students, substance abuse and violence in and around university precincts throughout the country”.

Universities South Africa Communication Manager Mateboho Green told University World News that a consensus was reached at the meeting to “jointly draft a memorandum of understanding with standard operating procedures to guide police response to incidents at universities, and also to guide communication lines and protocols between the SAPS and the universities. That process is currently underway,” said Green.

Green said the meeting was attended by 21 of the 26 South African vice-chancellors, including the Universities South Africa Chairperson and University of the Witwatersrand Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib, who co-chaired the meeting with the Deputy National Police Commissioner, Lt General Fannie Masemola.

“Also in attendance were 40 members of the Public Order Policing Unit including POP Unit commanders from all nine provinces and at least one senior representative of the Department of Higher Education and Training,” she said.

Crime spurt

In an official video posted on YouTube on 7 June, Habib said his university’s leaders were worried about a recent “crime spurt” in the areas surrounding the University of the Witwatersrand or Wits campuses in Parktown and Braamfontein, which included muggings and one or two abductions. Saying he was particularly worried about attacks on women, Habib said that crime seems to have increased over the last couple of weeks at Wits as well as other campuses in the country.

In the video, Habib said he had communicated with “multiple” political leaders about the crime affecting the university precincts, including the executive mayor of Johannesburg, the Premier of Gauteng and the national Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula.

He said while the minister had promised to intervene and try to ensure police deployment, the university did not “get the kinds of deployment that was required” which forced the institution to “put in private security around the university perimeters … [and] at one point we even had armed controls around the perimeters ….”

Habib said that private security initiatives could not “replace the police” as they did not have the same powers and authority as the police. “Frankly it would be illegal for us to act as the police,” he said.

He acknowledged that while there had been an increase in police deployment around the university precincts “over the last day or two”, he would work to ensure that this was maintained.

Parliamentary presentation

According to Green, a request by Universities SA for the meeting pre-dated the SAPS’s presentation to parliament in June when SAPS representatives said, among other issues raised, that universities were “inconsistent” in their approach to security during the Fees Must Fall protests which reached a peak last year.

According to a local news report, the police told the parliamentary committee on police involvement on campuses that they experienced insufficient access to campuses, and there was no uniform approach to policing by the various institutions. In addition, it was stated that some institutions tried to "distance themselves" from criminal investigations, which led to the withdrawal of many cases.

Green said the SAPS reiterated some of these concerns at the meeting with Universities South Africa, but the institutions also had an opportunity to share their perspectives.

“Deliberations saw both the SAPS and Universities South Africa sharing concerns and challenges they face in their mutual attempts to fight crime,” Green told University World News.

“Universities cited the delays they suffer at the hands of police in reporting incidents and the response times of the SAPS; inadequate exchange of information; poor evidence-taking and follow-up on some cases as well as issues pertaining to governance, channels of communication, interaction and engagement.

"The SAPS in turn raised concerns including how universities were managing their interactions and the multiple demands made on the SAPS by different constituencies with the universities.”

Security forums

According to the Universities South Africa statement, the meeting agreed that individual universities will work with their respective local police stations to establish functioning security forums and operational procedures to deal with all matters relating to safety and security.

“These security forums will meet at least once a month to ensure that there is sufficient exchange of information, engagement and agreement on how to manage issues that may occur. In addition, a SAPS liaison officer from the local police station will be identified for each university to coordinate communication on all related matters,” it said.

These arrangements will extend to the management of any future protests that may occur, according to the statement.

Universities South Africa said while it was fully acknowledged that students, staff and citizens have the constitutional right to protest, these rights should not infringe on the rights of others to work and learn.

In this regard, it was agreed that the SAPS would support the universities in managing illegal protests, particularly when protests turn violent or when there are attempts to disrupt academic programmes. The SAPS has committed to ensuring that all its actions will fall within the framework of the national constitution.