The private police fighting crime in the Joburg CBD

Crime has plummeted in areas of the Joburg CBD, thanks in large part to the deployment of an organisation named the Forum of Integrated Risk Mitigation (FIRM).

The FIRM is an organisation which partners with multiple businesses that have offices in central Johannesburg to improve the security and safety of everyone living and working in the area.

Partners include the major banks with offices in the CBD – FNB, Standard Bank, and Absa – as well as mining companies, taxi operators, property owners, and small business owners.

All of these partners pool their resources and security measures to create a unified security force which can police the Joburg CBD more effectively than these companies could while acting separately.

The FIRM was born out of a crisis. On 28 February 2019, the M2 Bridge into the Joburg CBD was closed, forcing motorists to take routes through the city with more traffic and a higher risk of crimes such as snatch-and-grabs and hijacking.

Banks quickly reacted by imposing curfews on employees and placing private security at strategic points to form safety corridors into and out of the city.

Many of these operations were overseen by the FIRM, which was initially created to deal with the security emergency caused by the bridge closure.

Birth of the FIRM

MyBroadband spoke to FIRM board chairman Wayne Dawson about the organisation’s creation and how it has grown beyond its original vision.

“What I have learnt from the crisis of the M2 Bridge is there are always opportunities, and those are new avenues, new ways of collaboration, and getting more people involved,” Dawson said.

“Before the bridge closed, you were going to be in trouble [when driving through CBD] during the peak times, especially when traffic is grinding to almost a standstill – that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable.”

After the bridge was closed, Dawson said that drivers were vulnerable for the two days immediately afterwards.

“After that, we had our guardians lined up on specific routes and we made sure that they were equipped with a radio to dispatch assistance and help,” he said.

“It was a simple model, a simple strategy, and then we started realising that we can do more. Day one for us was literally just put the bodies down there and move on that space.”

Security guards deployed by the FIRM to deal with the bridge closure were employed by the banks, private security companies, and other businesses in the area.

The organisation’s response saw a significant decline in contact crime, thanks to its use of analytics to determine crime hotspots and the resources it has at its disposal – including armed response teams, widespread CCTV footage, and regular patrols through the city.

“Since February last year when we started, Johannesburg was the number one contact crime capital of South Africa,” Dawson said. “At the end of September we were number eight, so something we did worked.”

Below is a map of security placements by FIRM partners in the Joburg CBD following the M2 bridge closure, as well as the reduction in crime following the FIRM’s intervention.

The FIRM security placements

The FIRM Incident Analysis

The guardians of Joburg

Today, months after the M2 bridge was reopened, drivers and pedestrians in Joburg CBD will still notice private security guards – officially termed “Public Safety Guardians” patrolling the area.

“You cannot miss them, they are these yellow neon-clothed individuals. You will see that they are from different security companies, but the jacket unifies us all,” Dawson said.

The FIRM guards who patrol the streets are not armed, but they do have instant communication with response units and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

“We are against the use of firearms – however, we have got tactical operational teams,” Dawson said. “I work for a bank, many of the other guys work for banks, so we definitely need those type of teams in our arsenal.”

“However, our approach is very different – it is not come in and cause a firefight. Our approach is to contain, arrest, and bring the guys to book.”

“You want to show society that these are the criminals and this is how we deal with these people. You also want to tell the criminals out there that there is a team that is not like any other team, this is how we operate,” he said.

The FIRM aims to train its security officers to be capable of handling almost any type of emergency situation, from contact crime to fires and medical emergencies.

“We want those guards to be seen as guardians as well as first-responder life-saving experts,” Dawson said. “They will be trained in firefighting, how to control and stop traffic, how to secure a crime scene.”

“All this type of training will be done with the SAPS, with JMPD coming on board, and when they are called up to assist, they are equipped to support during fires, disaster management, and other emergencies.”

Below is an image of the FIRM jacket, which identifies security officers as part of the organisation.

The FIRM jacket design

Securing the whole city

The firm’s short-term goal was to deal with the risks posed by the closure of the M2 Bridge.

It’s long-term goals, however, include making the city of Joburg a safer place for all who visit it and possibly expanding the project to other cities.

“At the end of last year, we were approached by the Tshwane Metro, Menlyn, Sandton, and the CID,” Dawson said. “They were very interested in our approach and how we collaborate and get things done.”

“They see the value in it and we are thinking of opening different chapters – the Johannesburg chapter, which is running right now, Tshwane chapter, Menlyn chapter, Sandton chapter, etc.”

The FIRM aims to work with the municipal government to combine their resources in an effort to curb crime across the entirety of central Johannesburg.

“JMPD has a city-wide camera network system monitored out of Martindale in a centre called the IIOC. They also have a response team,” Dawson said.

“What we are saying is it is time that we collaborate and partner with law enforcement to get that system up and running with better technology and communications integration.”

“From the security services point of view, we are looking at companies that will be able to rent Segway, bicycles, etc., so that we can increase patrols within the city.”

The FIRM also proposed the implementation of a city-wide camera system that would intelligently identify and flag incidents of crime, improving response time and allowing the authorities to make projections based on machine learning and analytics.

Other measures to secure the CBD would involve the building of drone ports on the roofs of businesses in the area, enabling a higher level of information and security over a wider area.

Re-inventing the City of Joburg

In addition to improving the safety of people on the streets, the FIRM is also looking at ways of bringing investment and shoppers to the CBD area.

“We are actually in collaboration with the City to start looking at repurposing some of our roads in the CBD,” Dawson said. “There are just too many vehicular traffic roads and too little walkable pedestrian safe routes.”

“This is where we are going to revitalise the city by establishing food bodegas and restaurants in full-on street levels. We are going to give it a South Africa feel and make our cities look like nobody else’s.”

“Every client that walks in the city spends money in the city.”

Dawson said the FIRM recognised the help it has received from CBD residents and businesses, and he called on businesses to join the initiative to improve the Joburg CBD.

“We used a lot of influence and intelligence from the ground and we must say thank you to every Joburg citizen that works, lives, breathes, and operates in the CoJ for helping us and assisting us with a lot of intelligence,” Dawsons said.

“The streets belong to us, and it is time that we took those streets back. Crime cannot prevail.”

Before he stepped down as mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba thanked businesses for coming on board to help clean up the city.

​“I’m happy that even though I’m leaving, initiatives like the inner city rejuvenation programme will continue beyond my presence and improve the lives of residents across the City of Johannesburg,” he said at a briefing hosted by the FIRM.

MyBroadband spoke to banks who operate in the Joburg CBD about the security of their employees and how things had improved after the M2 bridge re-opened.


Absa

At the outset of the M2 bridge closure, Absa published a blog post applauding the formation of the FIRM and its potential to uplift the city.

“This problem was not only met with a solution, but the potential to take back part of the CBD and unite one of South Africa’s biggest banks with the City of Joburg,” Absa said at the time.

Absa told MyBroadband that it takes the safety of its employees seriously, and has subsequently implemented a number of measures to ensure the protection of its employees, including:

  • Implementation of safe corridors leading to its campus providing coverage to its employees and partners from 06:00 to 22:00
  • Daily engagement with relevant authorities (JMPD and SAPS), peers in the industry as well as related industries
  • Providing Anti-Hijacking awareness training to its employees
  • Joint operations led by the JMPD and SAPS with other security companies in the immediate vicinity of the FNB campus
  • Monitoring and management of unprotected protest marches by its Operational Risk Management Centre
  • Public Partnerships i.e. Inner Jozi, City Improvement Districts (CIDs), Main Marshall Improvement District (MMID)

Absa logo


FNB

FNB has also praised the efforts of the FIRM and all partners involved, stating that it has seen a significant increase in business activity in the area.

FNB Point of Presence CEO Lee-Ann Van Zyl said that FNB continues to make significant investments into the BankCity precinct’s security and environment.

“In 2019, we officially opened the latest phase of the revamped BankCity precinct, which runs through Fraser Street,” she said.

“Since then, we have seen increased retail activity for small businesses in BankCity comprising coffee shops, restaurants and confectionary outlets to mention a few.”

Van Zyl said that consistent improvement in security is one of the bank’s leading priorities in creating a safer and more welcoming environment in the CBD.

“Consequently, we have partnerships with JMPD, SAPS and all partners affiliated to the FIRM to combine resources, reduce crime, improve traffic flow management and technical expertise.”

“Over the years, FNB has created safer routes for employees who walk, use public transport or drive into the city, and we offer a free shuttle service to employees,” she said.

“We’ve upgraded security cameras and employees have free access to an App that is linked to security companies that will respond to a distressed activation. We also provide after-hours security assistance to staff entering, leaving BankCity late at night or early in the morning.”

FNB also sponsors the branded reflector jackets worn by security guards affiliated to the FIRM.

“As one of the country’s leading employers, FNB is committed to creating a safer and welcoming environment for employees. In addition, we are committed to partnerships that will consistently improve vibrancy and business in the inner city,” van Zyl said.

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The private police fighting crime in the Joburg CBD