Police have warned neighbourhood watch patrollers to stop brandishing weapons at crime scenes. These include firearms, pepper ball and airsoft guns, as well as knives, pangas, metal pipes and spears regulated by the Dangerous Weapons Act.
And although patrollers are allowed to carry licensed firearms, they will be on their own if they shoot a suspect.
Diep River police have issued a warning reminding the patrollers about the do’s and don’ts of their jobs.
“While it is your constitutional right to carry your licensed firearm, the law states that it will be concealed at all times,” said Warrant Officer Keith Chandler.
“Brandishing pepper ball guns, airsoft and any other weapon falls under the Dangerous Weapons Act and is considered unlawful.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel André Traut said warnings were necessary to sensitise patrollers about the law.
Brian Wilkinson, chairman of Bergvliet, Kreupelbosch and Meadowridge (BKM) Watch, which is in the Diep River policing precinct, said members were trained and were specifically told not to brandish weapons. “I think the police were just reiterating what we are enforcing in terms of the training procedures we have,” he said.
National police spokesman Vish Naidoo said: “If you are in a neighbourhood watch and you have obtained your firearm legally, nothing stops you from carrying [it].”
But if a patroller shoots someone, the law would take its course.
“Each person that has a firearm knows how to handle their firearm, that’s why they go to all those competency tests,” he said.
“Whether they use that firearm in whatever circumstances or situation, they must be accountable for their own actions.”
The new Western Cape Community Safety Act aims to “professionalise” neighbourhood watches. While it does not mention firearms, it says patrollers will face expulsion if they are convicted of a sexual offence or a crime involving theft, violence or dishonesty.