Break-ins‚ intermittent water supply‚ smashed windows and broken lifts – these are the conditions police officers and their families living in Gauteng’s barracks deal with daily.
Poor conditions at barracks and police stations could have a negative effect on officers’ morale‚ affecting their performance‚ according to the Institute of Security Studies.
Standing on the stairs of the ninth floor of the Herdeshof police flats in Sophiatown‚ the wife of a constable‚ who has been living in the building for nearly 15 years‚ said petty crime is a regular occurrence.
“We don’t feel safe‚” she said. “People come here to steal. You often find that people [also] break into cars here. Imagine that‚ people come and steal from the police.
“The other day a group of people tried to attack a woman. Luckily she managed to run up the stairs‚” she added.
In a bid to protect their lives and property Herdeshof’s residents have taken it upon themselves to close one entrance to the property — yet there is no access control at the other entrance.
Although there are more than 180 flats in the building‚ with police members occupying most of them‚ the surrounding area has seen a rise in crime in recent years. The latest stats for Sophiatown show that crime has increased dramatically. Common robbery rose from 142 in 2014-15 to 239 cases in 2015-16 and robbery with aggravating circumstances going from 457 to 649 in the same period.
A notice at the Herdeshof building warns: “Please be warned there’s an influx of vagrants inside the flat some they sleep here and the others come to the bins and walk through corridors next to our doors claiming they collect empty plastic bottles. Let’s work together crime is ascalating because of this (sic)‚” the notice read.
The garages for residents have long been neglected‚ with doors to most not able to lock. Cars stood parked in the visitors parking bays at Herdeshof‚ while children played in the uncut grass.
Lifts at the Herdeshof barracks haven’t functioned for more than a decade and the building is 15 floors high.
“They tried to fix it a few years ago‚ but overnight the cables were stolen‚” said a sergeant who has lived in the barracks for more than 10 years.
Two years ago‚ police officers at Herdeshof and other barracks in the province received letters warning them that if they didn’t leave the barracks‚ they would be charged market-related rentals.
At the time‚ police management said police officers not living in the barracks received a R900 housing allowance‚ while those who chose to live in the barracks paid 1% of their salaries for rent‚ capped at R200.
Those living in the barracks said they couldn’t move out if police management didn’t provide them with alternative accommodation.
Police management said the letters were an attempt to clear the buildings so that the much needed renovations could take place. Now‚ two years later‚ some of the barracks haven’t seen much renovation.
The barracks opposite the Springs police station on the East Rand‚ hasn’t had running water for the past two weeks.
“We have to take a bucket and walk to the police station to fill it if we want to cook or wash ourselves‚” said a warrant officer who has been with the police force for 30 years.
“It’s impossible to live like this‚” he said.
He has four children‚ three of them still in school.
“They have switched off the lights and the water in the past‚” he added.
As with residents at the Herdeshof police barracks‚ police officers and their families at the Springs barracks also experience break-ins.
“We have reported it to management‚ but nothing gets done. We have barred some of the doors‚ so you can only enter from one side‚” said a sergeant with more than 12 years experience in the police and has lived in the Springs barracks since 2008.
He said the lifts were removed in October last year.
Residents say police management had told them that the water had been cut because of renovations. The barracks’ occupants say the big excavations outside the building were done by contractors fixing the sewerage system and not the water supply to their flats.
At the Alexandra police barracks‚ a constable said although the building isn’t up to scratch yet‚ renovations have started there.
“Things are moving‚ but slowly. Sometimes we feel it is moving too slowly‚” he said.
In 2015 the police officers complained about the intermittent water supply and poor access control. Police
management’s response was that they have been working on addressing problems at the various police barracks across Gauteng.
Police spokesperson Major-General Sally de Beer said police management had started with renovations at the Alexandra and Norwood police barracks‚ and “the need for repairs and renovations” at the Herdeshof police barracks had been identified.
“Over the past two years the national Department of Public Works and the South African Police Service [SAPS] have held inspections and meetings with members staying at different barracks‚” said De Beer.
“The departments have started executing plans for the improvement of the living conditions and security at all police premises. The occupation‚ health and safety aspects within the barracks are also a concern to the SAPS and are being addressed in order to be maintained according to the correct standards and specifications throughout the country‚” she said.
Dr Johan Burger‚ a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and justice programme‚ said police officers living and working in poor conditions could “feel that they aren’t [regarded as] important enough.
“It could contribute to feelings of neglect and inferiority — and that can have a negative effect on effective policing.”