Youth Crime Prevention Desks

Youth Crime Prevention Desks – Be inspired

In a nutshell

The Gauteng Youth Crime Prevention Desks are volunteer-based structures based at police stations within the province. The desks encourage and enable young people to participate actively in identifying the causes of youth violence and crime, and to collaborate in creating social crime prevention strategies for their communities. 

What we do

Recognising that young people in South Africa are a key target group as both victims and perpetrators of crime, the Youth Crime Prevention Desks (YCPDs) in Gauteng mobilise and involve young people in violence and crime prevention interventions. These volunteer-based structures mainly comprise youth between the ages of 18 and 27 and are based at police stations within the province. They encourage and enable young people to participate actively in identifying the causes of youth violence and crime, and to collaborate in creating social crime prevention activities with relevant stakeholders. 

The National Development Plan (NDP) for South Africa emphasises active citizen involvement and co-responsibility with law enforcement to address and resolve the root causes of violence and crime (Chapter 12 on “Building Safer Communities”). The YCPDs are a joint initiative between the Department of Community Safety (DoCS), the South African Police Service (SAPS), and Community Police Forums (CPFs). Initially designed to promote coordination between these entities to create safer environments for young people, the YCPD programme has become a platform for youth to share their vision for a safer future. 

This programme seeks to address various aspects of crime and its impact on youth. This includes: 

  • Developing cooperative relations between SAPS and youth
  • Assisting in identifying safety needs of youth
  • Developing and implementing programmes to address identified safety needs
  • Enabling youth to act as good citizens and role models
  • Empowering youth in crime prevention, as well as communication, conflict-resolution, and interpersonal skills 

How we do it

The core objective of the YCPD programme is for young people to help identify causes of youth violence and crime and to work with other role-players to design and implement relevant social crime prevention interventions. 

The YCPD members coordinate youth safety activities and projects at police station level. The main pillars are school safety, substance abuse prevention, and the prevention of violence against women and children. The idea is to work with other youth and youth groups to develop projects that are attractive, sustainable and implementable, and to respond to the specific safety needs of their communities. Initiatives include: 

  • Sports against crime
  • Prison talks
  • School talks and debates
  • School safety desks
  • Motivational talks
  • Substance abuse campaigns and projects
  • Road shows on safety
  • Child protection
  • House numbering programme
  • Crime awareness through public meetings

The YCPDs do not only respond from a crime prevention angle. They also tackle youth development, seeking to empower young people with skills to become better citizens. In January 2014, South Africa’s unemployment rate was 24.1%, with the youth making up a staggering 42% of that total. The NDP recognises that young people have a key role to play in finding sustainable solutions for safer communities. Employment is vital for security as unemployment is a major driver of crime among children and young adults. The YCPD programme strives to equip young people with hard and soft skills for future employability. 

Who is involved

The DoCS supports these structures through the placement of social crime prevention coordinators who oversee and ensure that there are functional YCPDs in each station. The DoCS, in collaboration with the youth desks, initiates and runs knowledge forums related to traffic, health and policing to increase awareness of social issues affecting crime. 

In every police station there is a SAPS coordinator responsible for the overall coordination of all social crime prevention-related activities, including the youth desk, victim empowerment centres (VECs) and CPFs These coordinators work closely with the DoCS social crime prevention coordinators. Resources such as office space, transport, stationery and computers are provided by SAPS. . 

CPFs work with the youth desks to help them understand crime hot-spots and identify which crimes and social issues need to be addressed most urgently.

These three partners work collaboratively to guide the youth desks on which areas to focus on, how best to go about designing a safer environment and why youth empowerment is critical for the creation of a greater and safer South Africa.

What we have achieved

Thanks to the YCPDs, young people are being incorporated more widely into community safety matters. Their voices are being heard and they are actively contributing towards crime prevention. 

In April 2014 there were 22 YCPD clusters within the provincial youth desk leadership structure. Within these clusters, 92 out of 141 police stations had functional youth desks. Every police station has a SAPS coordinator responsible for the YCPD. The SAPS coordinators work closely with the DoCS social crime prevention coordinators, who are responsible for the youth safety programmes. 

Other identified outcomes include:

  • A wide variety of community-based initiatives and activities, as mentioned above, which raise awareness and dialogue around crime and crime prevention 
  • The link between SAPS and the youth desks has helped to create a channel of communication between SAPS and youth networks in communities. Previously, SAPS had difficulties accessing schools and had a purely confrontational relationship with youth in their jurisdictions. The youth desk programme has helped to build trust and create a collaborative environment for the police to identify problematic young people from a preventive perspective
  • DoCS, in partnership with the Department of Infrastructure Development, placed 900 youth desk members in the National Youth Service Learnership programme – 300 in 2011/12 and 600 in 2012/13, for a period of 12 months each. These young people are deployed in communities within the province to do youth safety work
  • In 2011, through a partnership with the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, DoCS developed a social crime prevention training programme for YCPD members. Some 300 YCDP members received training in a pilot phase. Selected YCPD members have been exposed to mentorship training as well as substance abuse workshops

What we have learned

An impact study conducted in 2013 identified challenges in the following areas: 

Some youth desk members say they would like to have more training to be able to deal with the wide variety of problems facing the community. Others say it is not the type or amount of training they receive, but the fact that it is not accredited, which means that potential employers don’t recognise it. There is also a need for more mentorship, support and guidance from leadership structures. 

A lack of resources presents a challenge for the youth desks. However, there are many creative solutions to this problem. By finding partners and focusing on low-cost activities, youth desks are able to make the most of minimal resources. 

Sharing resources and office space with the CPF can be frustrating for both parties. In some police stations there are tensions, mainly due to the need to share office space, stationery or telephone lines. This issue can be resolved through education around cohesive branding and developing a clear understanding that both parties have the same objectives for the various programmes would help with the two parties’ challenges, in addition to funding for office space and resource distribution.

Recruitment and retention
Recruiting new members is a key challenge. Young people are often either not interested in getting involved, or are already busy with other activities. Another issue is a lack of clarity on how the recruitment process should be carried out. Some youth join but only stay for a short while because their expectations are not met. In response, some YCPDs are actively recruiting from the community and developing better induction processes. The message being shared is that youth desks can be used to develop skills for the job market, but that individuals must play an active role in their own professional development. 

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