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Shocking state of the SAPS

Non-existent planning, inadequate training and rampant corruption are fatally weakening the South African Police Service’s battle against crime.

These are some of the findings of a council of 14 retired police commissioners, appointed by police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi in 2006 to advise him on the state of the SAPS and the country’s crime-fighting capabilities.

The Mail & Guardian obtained a copy of the council’s confidential report, handed to Selebi at the end of last year. Until now it has not been made public and Selebi is yet to say a word about his former colleagues’ damning findings.

The 14 retired top cops, under former deputy national commissioner Morgan Chetty’s chairpersonship, criss-crossed the country, visited hundreds of police stations and interviewed police officers from almost every police unit.

Their report is an in-depth study of what’s wrong with the SAPS and provides telling insights into why, despite sporadic decreases, South Africa’s crime levels remain among the highest in the world.

The study asks questions in two broad areas: the SAPS’s overarching strategy to combat crime and the capacity at station level to deliver the services underpinning that strategy. It finds that there was no national crime-combating plan and that provinces began implementing their own, often flawed, programmes to fill the vacuum.

Chetty’s team recommends that government reviews its approach to crime prevention and that police stations should fulfil a bigger role in this regard.

‘There is no structured plan or actions at the national level to empower stations to manage and actually reduce crime. Initiatives to empower stations are ‘piecemeal’. Furthermore, crime-combating interventions from the national level have been sporadic and not sustainable,” the report reads.

Although stations have ‘operational plans”, they are ‘deemed frameworks and do not serve as tactical operational plans to deal with crime combating at station level. In fact, no tactical operational plans to deal with crime combating at station level could be found at any station visited.”

Senior police officers, including station commissioners, lack the knowledge required to compile such plans, the report points out.

The problem appears to have been compounded by ham-fisted restructuring of police stations into accounting, crime-combating and operation clusters. The commissioners say there was a complete lack of guidance on how this policy should be implemented.

Lack of ‘tekkie squads’/ detective skills

It isn’t just management capacity that is in short supply; basic resource shortages are just as urgent. Crime prevention at many police stations is hampered by a lack of personnel and unmarked vehicles. Vehicles intended for crime prevention are used too often for attending to complaints with little or no time for undertaking pre-emptive policing, other than visible patrols.

Police stations that have active prevention units or ‘tekkie squads” are more successful in reducing crime rates, the report says.

After reviewing the SAPS’s resources, the team concludes that there is a lack of vehicles, skills and facilities at many police stations. The Ikageng police station outside Potchefstroom has, for example, only one toilet. At the Maphumulo police station in northern KwaZulu-Natal there are only five offices for 69 officers.

The council also takes a dim view of the way the SAPS investigates crime. Detective services are neglected and many station commissioners ‘simply leave the detectives to carry on on their own”.

There is general poor quality of investigations and low conviction rates and at many branches there is no proper command and control. The study finds:

  • There is a shortage of detectives (3 343 nationally);
  • Many commissioned officers (superintendents and captains), who are not in command posts, do not carry case dockets;
  • Detectives investigate high volumes of trivial and/or minor offences;
  • Many inexperienced detectives investigate 150 dockets or more;
  • Insufficient resources are allocated to the detective unit by stations commissioners;
  • and

  • There is no official career path for detectives.
  • The investigation also finds that the majority of detectives are not trained adequately and that 24% of the country’s sleuths have not undergone a basic detective course.

    The Chetty team also identified a lack of proper crime information and intelligence during the assessment of crime combating at police stations. Crime prevention operations are often not based on sound intelligence and the SAPS’s Crime Information Analysis Centres do not function optimally.

    The SAPS’s intelligence units have, however, started a process of restructuring that will, ‘if correctly implemented”, address the crime intelligence gathering problems.

    Poor discipline and corruption

    A severe lack of discipline at station level plagues the SAPS. The report says ‘the general level of discipline is poor. Absence without leave and neglect of duty are common at many police stations.”

    Matters are not helped, the report suggests, by the fact that the SAPS has not implemented its Corruption and Fraud Prevention Strategy. Forms of corruption include the ‘buying” of dockets and the investigation of taxi-related crimes by police officers with family members involved in taxi violence.

    ‘There is a general lack of command and control within the police service at local level. Resultant poor levels of discipline and high levels of corruption are of serious concern,” the report says.

    The commissioners suggest a ‘back to basics” approach: the SAPS should address the key needs of communities. This includes attending to and investigating complaints, visibly patrolling communities, preventing crimes from being committed and maintaining order.

    Read the SAPS report

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