Yesterday I led a march in Cape Town, calling on national government to send the army to areas of the Western Cape.
This is an extreme measure. To deploy the military in civilian areas is not a call made lightly. But the levels of violence and suffering warrant it. Communities in this DA-run province are being held hostage by drugs and gangs, and we urgently need to get this crisis under control.
SAPS is entirely controlled by the ANC national government. It is plagued by weak leadership, falling budgets and large vacancies. Our calls for more police officers in these high-crime areas have gone unanswered. On the contrary, the Western Cape is increasingly being denied our fair share of police services.
Since 2016, while the national average policing ratio of police officers to population has dropped from 1:347 to 1:369, in the Western Cape it has dropped from 1:385 to 1:509. Vacancies stand at 22% of the entire service, three quarters of which are in the Western Cape.
To make matters worse, police deployment is highly inequitable between areas. At the extremes, Parliamentary VIPs enjoy 81 SAPS members per 1 VIP while Nyanga, the murder capital of South Africa, gets just 1 SAPS officer per 628 residents.
The whole country is under-policed and inequitably resourced, but the Western Cape most severely so, to the point that it would be fair to conclude that political considerations are driving police resourcing allocations.
The DA is calling for decentralization of policing powers. International experience shows that bringing policing powers closer to the people will gives the best chance of fighting crime effectively and becoming safer.
Our country is being held hostage by highly skilled and organised criminals. The monolithic, lumbering SAPS is hopelessly inadequate to the task of responding. The South African public has lost faith in the SAPS to keep them safe, and justifiably so.
There are urgent and obvious ways the SAPS should be reformed. The DA supports three key pillars of reform to turn SAPS into an effective crime-fighting organization: Localise, Professionalise, Specialise. All of these are considered international best practice.
The SAPS budgets and management authority should be localised to make the police more accountable to local residents and the local governments they elect.
Currently, the only localised policing services are the Metro Police Departments, under the control of each metro. They have limited powers and budgets but are better positioned to find local solutions to local problems, as the DA-run Metro Police Departments are showing.
But far from seeking to strengthen their powers, the national government is now seeking to subsume metro police departments into the SAPS. That is a recipe for disaster.
Beyond decentralizing, SAPS must be professionalised through the appointment of competent leadership, recruitment and promotion by merit, adequate training and equipping, and stronger accountability measures, for example body-worn and vehicle cameras for on-duty cops and CCTV surveillance cameras in Police Stations.
The SAPS must form specialised units such as rural safety, anti-hijacking, anti-gang and border security units, to address criminal activities that require expert knowledge, dedicated intelligence and investigation, and special equipment.
The DA now runs four Metro Police Services, in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. We have a growing track record that shows the effectiveness of the “localise, professionalise, specialise” approach and proves our commitment to safety.
Cape Town Metro Police Department (CTMPD)
Our longest track record is Cape Town, considered to run the best metro police in the country with the most competent, qualified leadership team. With its “localise, professionalise, specialise” approach, the tiny metro force does its best to fill the huge voids created by a chronically understaffed SAPS in the metro, where deployment ratios are 1:560.
When the DA took over in 2006, we managed to reduce crime in the CBD by 90% and largely keep it at those levels, in partnership with the Central City Improvement District, a private sector initiative. But these impressive gains are starting to be eroded and many of our suburbs remain war zones, because of the increasingly chronic SAPS understaffing, hence our call for SAPS reform, and for temporary support from the army.
Despite having to cover for the SAPS in crime fighting and prevention, CTMPD has not neglected its own constitutional duties such as traffic and by-law enforcement and fire services.
Cape Town has the country’s lowest corruption rates within law enforcement staff, making it the city in which you are least likely to be approached for a bribe. The road death toll has reduced even as the number of vehicles has risen by 40%. Our informal settlement fire death toll has been halved and overall fire mortality rate is roughly half the average for other SA metros.
The CTMPD lessons and systems are now being transferred to the new DA-run Metro Police Services.
Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD)
On taking over the JMPD in 2016, the DA-led government appointed experienced, committed leadership, which recruited and trained an additional 1500 police officers to increase visible, on the ground policing. As in Cape Town, they are prioritizing safety in the CBD by dealing with slum buildings and promoting mixed-use development.
They are committed to proper by-law enforcement, with the philosophy that taking a zero-tolerance approach to even minor law-breaking, grows a culture of law and order that is a prerequisite of a safe society. Mayor Mashaba is nothing if not determined to restore law and order in Johannesburg. His campaign, Operation Buya Mthetho (return to the law), is a project run together with the SAPS that targets problems such as hijacked buildings, illegal utility connections, non-paying businesses (from which it has recovered over R600 million), licensing infringements, drunk driving and unroadworthy taxis (550 impounded this year so far).
They made more arrests in the first 18 months than in the previous three years combined (including by their specialised K9 narcotics unit, which has achieved 1193 arrests, recovering 123 illegal firearms, 136 kg of drugs and over 1000 hijacked vehicles) and are working with the Department of Home Affairs to assist undocumented immigrants to become documented or be repatriated.
Tshwane Metro Police Department (TMPD)
The DA-run coalition is particularly focusing on tackling Tshwane’s widespread drug problems. It has established the TMPD Anti-Drug Unit to fight and eliminate drug abuse. This is a key area where specialisation is essential and makes sense, since so much other crime is drug-related, such as theft, which targets city infrastructure. Drug lords and peddlers are now feeling the heat in Tshwane.
NMB Metro Police Department
When the DA-run coalition took over NMB metro in August 2016, the metro police service was non-existent save for a police chief earning over R1 million per year. Not a single officer had been appointed. The NMB Metro Police service is one of the NMB council’s greatest successes.
Eighteen months later, the metro police force now has a competent, experienced police chief, Yolanda Faro, and 129 (will be 154 by year-end) fully trained metro police officers that are on the beat, regularly out doing patrols and by-law enforcement. They have 3 metro satellite police stations, 10 vehicles, a bicycle unit, a ghost squad, a 24-hour manned call centre, a great track record so far, and an excellent working relationship with the SAPS, carrying out many joint operations to clear out criminals and drug lords.
They are extremely proud of their achievements and results to date, although they still need to grow the force significantly.
Where the DA governs, we have made real, measurable progress in fighting crime, despite policing being a national government responsibility. We have shown that localisation, professionalisation and specialisation work, and are the best way to achieve maximum impact with scarce resources. We are committed to working towards a safe South Africa in which law and order prevails. In 2019, a vote for the DA will be a vote for a safer society.