Maybe we need a rethink on how we address the need for a larger police force...
Neeven Soodyall, an old chum of mine, got in touch with me recently after seeing my electronic mail address on this column. He's now a respected economist working with Eskom, but I first got to know him in 1986 when I arrived at Princeton University to study political science.
He was a second-year engineering student back then. He had worked his butt off during the summer holidays and had scrimped and saved to buy a Volkswagen Beetle in excellent condition. And he was now ready to introduce me to one of the idiosyncracies of the Ivy league student population.
The game is called doughnuts. Princeton students are generally rich - fees were about US $25 000 per year at the time - and many of them own cars.
When the winter snows come by, students surreptiously haul their cars onto the nearest deserted parking lot, tear furiously across, and then spin the car. The marks in the snow look like UFO landing sites and are called doughnuts.
The game is of course quite illegal. Students caught doing doughnuts face disciplinary action. This does not in any way deter from the game's popularity.
So, one bright winter's morning, friend Neeven made an early start and drew some very impressive doughnuts in the snow of parking lot 22 (or somesuch). When along came the long grey Chevrolet driven by campus security.
Neeven fled. Campus security gave chase. And they careened off the parking lot onto Washington Road and down towards Carnegie Lake. Neeven was all set to lose the tail when a New Jersey state trooper suddenly entered the fray with red, white and blue lights ablaze.
Neeven smartly decided to give up. He pulled over off to the side of the road as both the state trooper and campus security flanked his Beetle. The campus security office got out and walked around to the state trooper. "I'll handle this," he said. The state trooper touched his cap in salute and left.
The campus security officer, a tall fatherly black American who looked like Bill Cosby's brother, then hauled Neeven out of the car and gave him a long patient lecture as to why doing doughnuts was so dangerous. Neeven was suitable contrite. The security officer said he'd drop the matter, and left.
Neeven was of course quite relieved. He was particularly impressed that the campus security officer - let's call him the CSO so that I don't have to type this as many times - had managed to get rid of the state trooper.
What he did not know was the the reason why the state trooper had left was because the CSO was a superior officer. All Princeton Campus security are full time policemen, trained at the state police academy, and with full powers to arrest, detain, or otherwise enforce the law. They just happen to be stationed on the campus. In an emergency, they will be available to supplement the state trooper force in the greater Princeton area.
I think this idea makes a lot of sense. If you are going to have a private security force, and expect them to keep law and order on your premises, what better way to ensure their capability than to draw them from the ranks of the qualified?
We have an abundance of private firms that provide armed security. I count 12 pages of listings in Durban's Yellow Pages. Most of these guys scare the pants off of me. It's not like a private school where you know the teacher has to have the same - if not better - qualifications than the government school. Who teaches these guys when to shoot, how to shoot, and most importantly, whether to shoot?
If business were to buy into the idea, on-site security could then be contracted directly from SAPS. This would increase availability of funds for enlarging the police forces. Much of the private needs could be filled in 4 hour overtime shifts which would bring extra money into the pockets of policemen. God knows they need it.
There is the downside of course. Our existing private security personnel would then stand to lose jobs. The SAPS should make provision for assimilating these people into their ranks via their training programme.
I would feel much better knowing that people in the 24 hour armed response Citigolfs that cruise my street are not terrified trigger-happy teenagers.
The doughnut story has a sequel. Neeven was back on the same parking lot doing doughnuts the following weekend, and was caught by the same CSO...