Bokamoso | What would the DA do if given the Police Ministry tomorrow?

On Sunday, President Zuma attended a SAPS Commemoration Day in honour of the 58 police officers who tragically lost their lives in the line of duty this year. And, from his address, it seems that he has finally woken up to the fact that we have a serious crime problem.

Acknowledging that crime in South Africa is violent and outlining plans to address the scourge of police killings is a step in the right direction, but it is tragic that it took the senseless deaths of so many officers – including two policemen killed on Wednesday in my hometown of Dobsonville, Soweto – to get us to this point. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families of all the men and women in uniform who lost their lives serving their communities.

Equally tragic is the fact that, despite the horror stats on police killings, the risk of a SAPS police officer being killed in the line of duty is still three times less than the average 15 to 60 year-old South African male’s risk of death due to unnatural causes (homicide, accident and suicide).

Ordinary citizens are not safe in their own communities, and our outrage should not end with the police killings. Our crime situation is out of control, and there is very little left in terms of working relations between SAPS and the communities they serve. Clearly, the entire system needs an overhaul.

In order for us, as a nation, to thrive and reach our full potential, we need to feel secure. Criminal activity tears apart the fabric of our communities and poisons the national psyche. I dream of a country where children are safe, citizens can walk the streets and sleep peacefully at night, criminals are caught promptly, and victims are treated with compassion. I dream of a country free from fear.

Of course the underlying economic and social factors must be addressed, but there are also key changes which urgently need to be made to our Police Service. So let’s imagine for a moment that the DA was given the Police Ministry tomorrow. This is what we’d do:

We’d start at the very top by filling key leadership positions such as that of the National Police Commissioner with qualified, experienced, committed, professional police officers. Under the DA, the days of the deployed cadre will be well and truly over.

We’d then focus on improving the quality, training, recruitment and retention of SAPS members. We need police officers who are committed and enthusiastic about fighting crime and for whom serving their country is a calling, and not just a job. They would be appropriately trained and resourced to protect us from violent crimes such as those increasingly being perpetrated on their own colleagues. On foot or in cars, they would be active and visible in our communities, winning back our trust.

The DA would boost the Service from a current 200 000 to 250 000 officers, in order to achieve a ratio of about 1 SAPS member per 200 citizens. This is higher than the international average of about 1 officer per 333 citizens, but it is appropriate to our high crime level.

The detective component of the SAPS is critical in the fight against crime because it ensures that successful convictions can be obtained once arrests are made. As per the Institute of Security Studies recommendations, the DA would increase the number of detectives to at least 20% of officers – in other words, around 50 000 – all of whom would be trained and resourced to international best-practice standards.

Five years ago, when we hosted the FIFA World Cup, we enjoyed a rare moment of seeing plenty of police officers on the ground, but this came to an end along with the tournament. Currently we have a top-heavy command structure with 41% of members sitting behind desks in national or provincial head offices. Not only is this is a huge waste of money, it also means that fewer than 120 000 officers are available to staff our 1 140 police stations (or an effective allocation of only 1 officer per 441 people). This is hopelessly inadequate. The DA would get most of these members out of their air-conditioned offices and into our communities where they can make a real difference. I want to know the names of my local police officers. I want to feel we’re on the same side.

The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry initiated in the Western Cape by Premier Helen Zille (in spite of strong resistance from SAPS) found last year that Harare, one of the poorest and most crime-afflicted areas in the province, had the lowest density of police personnel at just 1 per 901 citizens – almost 10 times fewer than Camps Bay, with 1 per 104 people. The Natal Witness found that similar allocation patterns exist in KZN. This impinges on various Constitutional rights and is a travesty of justice.

The DA would urgently review current allocations of police officers, vehicles and equipment to stations (along with the methods used by SAPS to calculate these allocations) in order to achieve a distribution of policing capacity that reflects both the size of communities and the extent of crime within them.

Strong management of these police stations is, of course, critical. The DA would make sure that stations are run by commanders who have the necessary management skills and experience. They, and all police members, would be held to performance agreements. Good performance would be recognised and rewarded appropriately.

Officers would know that their conduct and integrity must be beyond reproach. According to a poll by the Human Sciences Research Council, some two-thirds of South Africans see the police as the most corrupt of all government officials. We would win back the public’s trust in the police service with a zero tolerance approach to police corruption, criminality and brutality. This would include:

  • dismissal of any SAPS member found guilty of corruption or misconduct;
  • reinstating of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), which was a successful police corruption-fighting unit closed down in 2002;
  • empowering and resourcing of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to oversee the conduct of the police, which would start with the appointment of a suitable head;
  • encouraging SAPS members to report corruption though positive recognition and protection for whistle-blowing; and
  • dismissal and referral to the criminal justice system of any police officer found guilty of a criminal offence or brutality by IPID.

Police officers would not be above the law. South Africans would slowly but surely regain confidence in the ability of the police to keep us safe rather than cause us harm. They would run to them for assistance, rather than from them in fear.

The police service would be resourced to protect its officers from the crimes they so bravely face, and psychological counselling would be mandatory to ensure that all functional members receive on-going psychological support and trauma debriefing. This would be achieved through collaborative partnerships with universities and NGOs.

Crime threats vary drastically from community to community. The current centralised “one size fits all” crime prevention and crime-fighting strategy undermines the ability of police stations to respond to the specific needs of their community. Although all stations would still need to comply with a basic national operating, regulatory and ethical framework, the DA would give both Provinces, and the individual police stations themselves far more autonomy. This would enable them to have a greater impact in the war on crime by developing innovative and localised crime-fighting strategies according to their specific needs.

The DA would actively encourage and facilitate collaborative initiatives between private security firms, Metro Police, Community Policy Forums and SAPS to solve problems at the local level and to better connect police stations with their communities.

The police service cannot work in isolation. We would build constructive linkages to Social Development, the prosecutions system, and local municipalities. If, for example, a broken street light is the cause of a crime hot-spot, it will be fixed as a matter of priority.

The DA would improve access to and use of data by police stations, enabling them to identify repeat offenders in a particular area. Research shows that less than 10% of all offenders are responsible for more than half of all crimes. By focusing strongly on repeat offenders we can cut crime rates dramatically.

We’d introduce an integrated criminal justice information system to better link the Departments of Police, Justice and Correctional Services. Crimes would be captured and tracked from the moment they are reported. This system would make it possible to identify crime hot-spots and boost assistance and resources to those areas.

Through the use of available technology, real-time crime statistics would be available to the public at every SAPS station. We need to be able to trust crime statistics (which under a DA government would be managed by an independent body) just like we need to be able to trust the police service.

We would also harness other technology such as licence plate recognition cameras, CCTV units, gunfire detection and fingerprint technology to improve detection of and response to crime.

The current approach to policing does not allow for the level of specialisation required to deal with specific categories of crime. Most specialised SAPS units that previously tackled particular categories of crime have been systematically dismantled by the ANC government. Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, in a parliamentary response this week, made it clear that there is no intention to reinstate them. The DA would immediately reinstate the following specialised units:

  • The Narcotics Bureau
  • The Anti-Hijacking Units
  • Rural Safety Units, to address the scourge of farm killings
  • Anti-Gang Units
  • The Organised Crime Unit
  • The Serious and Violent Crime Unit
  • The Commercial Crime Unit
  • The internal Anti-Corruption Unit and the
  • Public Order Policing – we’d bring the number of specific POP units back up to 43

There would be one of each of these units – sufficiently empowered and resourced to fulfill its mandate – in every district where that crime is prevalent. Existing units such as VIP Protection, Crime Intelligence and National Intervention would be streamlined or adapted to perform their mandates effectively.

I recognise that some of these changes would be difficult to effect, but each one is possible. Some would take time, which is all the more reason to get started. Taken together, these actions would have a massive positive impact on the lived reality of every South African.

I acknowledge that the ANC has made some progress since the very dark days of the 1990s, but we still have a long, long way to go. And nothing stops the President and his government from doing all of this now.

Mmusi Maimane
DA Leader

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