UP studies show how police-community partnerships can reduce crime in high-risk cities

Research by the University of Pretoria (UP) has demonstrated the importance of community policing forums in fighting crime in high-risk environments, such as in Johannesburg.

“UP is passionate about doing innovative, impactful research that is transformational for people and society,” says Dr Mary Mangai, a lecturer at UP’s School of Public Management and Administration (SPMA) and lead author of a study titled ‘The Importance of a Police-Community Partnership (Co-production): A Study of the City of Johannesburg’, which was published in the International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change. “Our research on community policing addresses one of South Africa’s most pressing societal concerns: the security and safety of lives and properties.”

“The role of society as an active participant in taking agency is addressed in the context of co-production,” adds study co-author Professor Natasja Holtzhausen of the SPMA.

The study echoes a concern voiced by Thandi Modise, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, in February 2022 about the “low level of trust” between members of the public and various law enforcement agencies.

“We will endeavour to rebuild trust between community members and officers deployed in communities,” Modise said. “This will entail reviving community policing forums [CPF], which will work with local police stations to fight crime. This will ensure an inclusive approach to assessing threats in communities and put in place the necessary responses.”

“Our research on community policing will contribute towards police-community partnerships that reduce crime in cities such as Johannesburg,” says Dr Tyanai Masiya, a senior lecturer at the SPMA.

Communities are affected by high crime of all types, including murder, sexual offences, assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, common assault, common robbery, robbery with aggravating circumstances and hijacking.

UP’s research shows that stronger, well-resourced, more effective CPFs can make a significant impact in reducing such crimes. A police-community partnership closes the gap between the police and community members by establishing a working relationship and deep engagement between the two. Communities share responsibilities with the police such as street patrol and guarding private and public properties.

“In order to improve neighbourhood security, CPFs should be better supported by the South African Police Service [SAPS],” Dr Mangai says. “Infiltration by criminals should be prevented and structures should be well funded. This should include keeping accurate and centralised data on CPF activities at police station levels, if possible.”

The University’s research also clearly points out the challenges that police face. In a second study published by the same authors, this time in the Technium Social Sciences Journal, police officers revealed that they lacked resources such as vehicles and human resources to ensure full coverage of policing areas. According to them, policing in informal settlements and hostels are particularly difficult because of inaccessibility and overcrowding respectively.

A community partnership could mitigate these challenges by, for example, asking businesses to donate resources to the police and, since the police shares resources with communities – such as trailers and caravans for street patrollers – getting community members to volunteer to increase police manpower is another option. Police could also make use of drones to monitor settlements where houses are closely built together.

However, there is still a long way to go when it comes to creating safe environments in Johannesburg. The government, SAPS, civil society and private security companies will need to work together to eliminate neighbourhood security challenges.

Incorporating co-production will ensure that innovative and inclusive security initiatives are created. In addition, it will require reform within the police force and the proper implementation of newly created security initiatives to reduce Johannesburg’s crime rates and the public’s insecurities.

“This research indicates that strong organisations require strong ethical organisational cultures,” Prof Holtzhausen says.

Click on the infographic in the sidebar to learn more about how we can intervene to reduce crime.

Dr Mary Mangai, Dr Tyanai Masiya and Professor Natasja Holtzhausen

July 20, 2023

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  • Dr Mary Mangai

    Dr Mary Mangai studied Economic Development and Policy Analysis at the University of Nottingham in the UK at master’s level and completed her PhD in Management Sciences (Public Administration) at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

    She joined the University of Pretoria (UP) in March 2018 as a postdoctoral fellow, and she is now a permanent staff member at the School of Public Management and Administration.

    “The University has an appreciable research environment that helps to catalyse my drive for research,” Dr Mangai says. She adds that UP encourages community engagement and has a good platform for dissemination of her research output.

    Her research on crime prevention co-production in South Africa and Germany has the potential to contribute to the betterment of the world in more than one way, she says. By identifying and comparing effective strategies for crime prevention in Johannesburg and Duisburg in Germany, Dr Mangai’s research can inform and guide policy decisions and practices in other regions and countries that are facing similar challenges. It can also promote knowledge sharing and collaboration among different regions and countries.

    Additionally, her research can help to highlight the importance of co-production and multi-stakeholder involvement in crime prevention efforts, which can lead to more effective and sustainable solutions.

    Essentially, the findings and insights from this research can be used to inform and guide crime prevention efforts at local, national and even international level, with the goal of creating safer, more secure environments and communities for all, as envisaged by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17.

    Dr Mangai is the lead researcher in the research project on crime prevention co-production in South Africa and Germany. After securing funding for the project from South Africa’s National Research Foundation and the German Research Foundation, she invited a few colleagues and her honours students from the School of Public Management and Administration to join her in the collection of data and analysis. This has led to several articles being published, and some that are soon to be published, in reputable international journals.

    The counterpart funding of this research in Germany saw Dr Mangai going on a three-month visit to Germany to conduct field research in crime prevention co-production. She worked with Professor Tobias Debiel at the Institute for Development and Peace at the University of Duisburg to collect data in different German cities. They produced a manuscript entitled ‘An analysis of crime prevention co-production in Germany’, which will soon be published.

    “It was innovative and explorative to see how crime prevention is addressed in different fields and contexts,” Dr Mangai says.

    She mentions several recent highlights of her research work:

    • Comparative analysis: The research project was successful in conducting a comparative analysis of crime prevention strategies and approaches in South Africa and Germany. This can provide valuable insights into how different approaches to crime prevention co-production can be effective in different contexts.
    • Co-production as a theoretical framework: The use of co-production as a theoretical framework for crime prevention is an innovative approach that can help bring together different stakeholders and perspectives to address crime prevention.
    • Emphasis on stakeholder involvement: The research project emphasises the importance of involving other stakeholders beyond just the police in crime prevention efforts. These include community groups, local organisations and government agencies working together towards the common goal of reducing crime.

    Overall, the research project has the potential to contribute to the development of more effective and collaborative crime prevention strategies in both South Africa and Germany. Additionally, the focus on co-production as a theoretical framework for crime prevention is important, as it emphasises the collaboration and involvement of various stakeholders in crime prevention efforts beyond law enforcement agencies. This research can contribute to the development of effective and comprehensive crime prevention strategies that take into account the contextual differences and involve various stakeholders in the process.

    A specific event inspired her research. She relates how the conceptualisation of her project was inspired by a viral video she saw on Google News.  

    “I saw a high school boy being robbed in broad daylight at a busy intersection in Johannesburg. People were passing by while the robbery was taking place. That caught my attention: I asked myself how this societal problem could happen in such a place and time; why people were going about their business without bother; how society could have degenerated to such a level; and what could be done to ameliorate such challenges.

    Dr Mangai has begun a new project entitled ‘Co-creating knowledge in violence and crime prevention in Gauteng and the Western Cape’ with Dr Jan L Wilhelm of the University of Potsdam in Germany.

    She has two academic role models: Prof Margaret Chitiga-Mabugu, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, and her PhD supervisor, Prof Michel de Vries of Radboud University.

    “Prof Mabugu’s career pursuit is worth emulating” Dr Mangai says. “She has inspired me to be my best, and encouraged me to take on roles that shaped my career journey. Prof De Vries gave his all to make me what I am today. He was a supervisor and is now a mentor. He helped me to network with academic bigwigs in the field of public administration and management globally. He regularly checks in on me to see how I am doing, even after five years after I obtained my PhD.”

    Her advice to school learners or undergraduates who are interested in her field is to develop a strong foundation in the social sciences, in subjects such as public administration, political science, sociology, psychology, economics, criminology and law.

    “These subjects will provide an understanding of the complex social dynamics that underpin governance, criminal behaviour, rationality, social cohesion and social change,” Dr Mangai says. “Also, develop critical-thinking skills. A critical mind is essential in the field of public administration and management. Students in this field should be able to analyse and evaluate data and research critically, and logically dissect policies and government programmes.”

    She adds the following advice:

    • Get involved in research: Research experience is crucial in this field. Aim to gain experience through internships, research assistantships or by conducting your own research.
    • Attend conferences and events: This is a great way to network with other professionals in the field and stay up to date with the latest research and developments.
    • Consider pursuing advanced education: Advanced degrees such as a master’s or PhD in Public Policy, Public Administration and Management can increase your knowledge, skills and job opportunities.
    • Gain practical experience: Internships or part-time jobs in the Department of Public Service and Administration and so forth can give you practical experience and an idea of what it is like to work in the field.

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    In her free time, Dr Mangai likes travelling, action research, mentoring and cooking.

    “Meeting people and exploring different cultures have made me see the world differently and from a broader perspective. Action research seeks transformative change through the simultaneous process of taking action and doing research, which are linked by critical reflection.”

    She likes mentoring young people because she considers herself to have achieved this much due to mentorship.

    As for cooking she says: “As a seasoned academic, I am fascinated by the fact that I like cooking. Perhaps it’s the craving for proper meals and the love of family that have resulted in me favouring cooking!”

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  • Dr Tyanai Masiya

    Dr Tyanai Masiya joined the University of Pretoria (UP) in 2017. He is a researcher, senior lecturer and an undergraduate studies coordinator.

    “The University of Pretoria is a research-intensive university with an established reputation for research quality and excellence,” he says. “Its research strategy is focused on societal challenges, in particular, the challenges faced by Africa and developing regions in the Global South.”

    Dr Masiya’s research is largely focused on the niche area of public service delivery, with particular emphasis on South Africa. This choice was driven by the fact that the country is still recovering from the apartheid era where the quality of service delivered both at national and municipal levels was divided by race, and the resources skewed in favour of the white minority.

    Challenges around service delivery and potential service delivery alternatives have been central to his research. The findings in several articles he has published point out that service delivery is influenced by factors such as perceptions of relative deprivation and inequality, unfulfilled political promises, uneven access to services, provision of substandard services, institutional weakness, poor employee/management capacity and high levels of poverty, including disparities that emanate from the post-apartheid regime. Dr Masiya’s research has focused on four elements of service delivery: service culture, service quality, customer service and employee engagement.

    His field of research contributes to the betterment of the world because research data and findings can be used by government to make important decisions to improve public service delivery.

    Dr Masiya’s research has been motivated by the fact that over the past two decades, many regions in South Africa have seen service delivery protests characterised by increased violence, and have been attributed to poor and inadequate service delivery. His research matters, he says, because it seeks to contribute towards improved provision of basic services, particularly to the majority of poor and previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa. Dr Masiya hopes to help generate alternative service delivery strategies that will result in improved service delivery in South Africa.

    He would like learners or undergraduate students who are interested in his field to know that public administration is an excellent programme for those who like working with people.

    “It prepares you to confront the challenges facing South Africa’s diverse communities,” Dr Masiya says.

    He considers himself a world tourist and says he has lost count of the countries he has visited.

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  • Professor Natasja Holtzhausen

    Professor Natasja Holtzhausen obtained a BA degree in Political Science and a master’s in Public Administration (cum laude) from the University of Pretoria (UP). She joined UP’s School of Public Management and Administration as an associate professor in May 2012.

    She chooses to do research at UP because the University creates an enabling environment for researchers and supports research endeavours.

    “At the core of society lies ethics, and without ethics, values and norms, we would become a society that does not care,” Prof Holtzhausen says about her field of research. “I firmly believe that the work I do in anti-corruption efforts, and especially the much-contended protection of whistle-blowers, is essential for society.”

    For Prof Holtzhausen, her field of research contributes to creating an enabling environment for people who disclose wrongdoing. She adds that ethics champions are essential for a better world. Her personal hashtag is: #workthatmatters

    Prof Holtzhausen, who serves on the Gauteng Ethics Advisory Council, is currently focusing on areas related to the workstream that she leads on the legislative framework as well as policy issues. In her personal capacity, she recently started exploring lessons that can be learned from disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic on corruption efforts, and matters relating to public procurement and the role of whistle-blowers.

    Academically speaking, she strives to contribute to creating an environment where whistle-blowing or the act of disclosing wrongdoing becomes part of an ethogenic organisational culture, similar to internal control. Her research matters, she says, if one considers, as an example, the various corruption indices and what happens to whistle-blowers in South Africa.

    “Those that disclose wrongdoing must be protected and we need to collectively work towards enforcing anti-corruption efforts,” she says. “Corruption steals from every single citizen every day.”

    Prof Holtzhausen’s advice to school learners or undergraduates who are interested in her field is to firstly “stand in authenticity and ethical behaviour”.

    “We need to be and do good,” she says. “Do not think that you will change the world. Make a change or a difference in your circle of influence.”

    Prof Holtzhausen says she loves humans and animals, and considers herself an activist.

    “I am proudly Pan-African and I enjoy contributing to change on our beautiful continent.”

    In her spare time, she likes to read non-fiction and always has an audiobook on the go.

    “I enjoy autobiographies narrated by the authors themselves. I fancy myself an urban farmer and love to grow vegetables. When I get the chance, I dance.”

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