Over the past nine years, the Cape Town Central police station has become a second home for Vredehoek’s Nicola Jowell.
Now, after almost four years in the position, Ms Jowell will step down next month as the chairperson of the Cape Town Central Community Police Forum. She said she would miss the relationships she had built over the years.
Ms Jowell, along with three other residents, helped to establish the Devil’s Peak/ Vredehoek Neighbourhood Watch in 2008 after a series of violent crimes in the area.
“I remember the first time a policeman came to my house because they had heard we wanted to start the neighbourhood watch. I was terrified, thinking what I have done wrong,” she joked.
About 120 people turned up for the first neighbourhood watch meeting and she realised residents were serious about tackling crime, and after attending several meetings at the police station, Ms Jowell decided to join the CPF to get a better handle on policing and found herself elected treasurer in November 2008. She held other positions before becoming chairperson in 2014.
“I was surprised at the level of dedication and interest to combat crime in communities where these policemen and women do not live. There are some fantastic policemen and women. The hardest thing about understanding the police is understanding the constraints, the system and the hierarchy.”
The CPF, she said, was “not just a one-way street” and was about representing the needs of the community as well as the police. However, her time on the CPF had not been without its challenges and frequent changes in management at the police station had been one of them.
“We’ve had a different station commander every two years. Every time someone comes in they want to start changing things and doing it their way, understandably.
Ultimately, it means that we are not seeing continuity and seeing things through. We’ve also seen changing views on what information can be shared with us and what can’t be.”
The stations, she said, were also very under resourced and that hampered crime-fighting efforts.
But the neighbourhood watches helped to fill that gap while also playing a vital role in the smooth running of the CPF.
“Every time a neighbourhood watch is formed, there is a positive knock-on effect. The police are the first to admit they can’t do it alone. We need this partnership to make a difference. Having a solid network of neighbourhood watches in the city and that work together is hugely important.”
One such example of groups working well together was the Licence Plate Recognition Project.
Ms Jowell said it had not been easy balancing her crime-fighting duties with other responsibilities – she has had two children during her time with the CPF – and that was one of the reasons she was stepping down as chairperson.
“I believe that if things are important to us we will make the time for it. Not one of the volunteers is different to any other neighbour. We all have children, families and work, but people have chosen to make the time.”
She said she was very happy with the “police officer of the month award” she started and had found it rewarding to see the pride police officers felt when getting recognition. Another success, she said, was the community crime-free nights.
“The most rewarding things have been the personal relationships and personal growth in learning something I knew nothing about. It is the relationship with the people at the station and making a difference in their lives.”
Ms Jowell, said she would like to continue at the CPF but in a less demanding role.
She encouraged the community to get involved, even if it was only for one hour a week.
“Until we are willing to get involved ourselves and give up our time we will never live in a safe community,” she said. “The easiest thing for all of us to be is an armchair warrior. To sit at our computers, posting on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. We can complain until we’re blue in the face. Unless you are prepared to put actions behind the complaints you are not going to get the results that we want.”
Ms Jowell will now work part-time on various community projects with ward councillor Brandon Golding. She thanked all the neighbourhood and CPF volunteers she has worked with over the past nine years.
Cape Town Central Police Station spokesman Captain Ezra October described Ms Jowell as a very competent chairperson who had a passion for community work.
“It was an absolute pleasure to have worked alongside Nicola… Woman of strength, I salute you.”
Muneeb Hendricks, a CPF executive member and former chairperson, said Ms Jowell left big shoes to fill.
“Working with her was like a breath of fresh air. She was energetic and always followed everything through.”