A falconer, but no hawks

How dangerous is a hawk with one eye, a blunt beak and no nest? The South African Police Service (SAPS) launched the directorate of priority crime investigations (DPCI) this week with much pomp and ceremony, but with only one member: unit head Anwa Dramat.

Former Scorpions and police officers belonging to the organised crime and commercial crime units were perplexed this week when the Hawks were launched without clear direction on when and how they would start to fly.

Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised. The Hawks are, after all, the end product of an intensive ANC campaign to get rid of the successful Scorpions and not of a governmental crime-fighting campaign.

It was originally rumoured that the unit would employ about 500 super-sleuths with specialised training in fighting corruption and highly organised crime, such as cash-in-transit robberies, ATM bombings and drug trafficking. This was the Scorpions model.

Although the establishment of the Scorpions naturally led to rivalry among colleagues in the law enforcement establishments, it also created the possibility of promotion and growth for experienced police officers.

This week, however, the SAPS announced that the Hawks would employ as many as 3 500 people who would be selected from the Scorpions (218 have been transferred to the police) and the police’s own organised crime and commercial crime units.

These people are still being vetted to ensure they are of the “highest integrity”.
But the numbers don’t add up. The SAPS employs more than 3 000 people in its organised crime and commercial crime branches. Add that to the 218 Scorpions who have joined the police and you reach almost 3 500.

Does this mean all police detectives working in these existing units will now form part of the Hawks and that there will be no ‘normal” detectives left?

What will happen to those unlucky ones who don’t make the cut? And how will the SAPS prevent rivalry between Hawks and non-Hawks?

“The structure is being finalised through the normal processes of the SAPS,” police spokesperson Sally de Beer told the Mail & Guardian this week. “No other senior appointments have been made yet. Individuals have been screened and we are going through the selection process.

“To prevent rivalry Commissioner Dramat has engaged provincial commissioners and the directorate has been structured to allow for a dual reporting channel to the deputy provincial commissioners in charge of investigations as well as to Commissioner Dramat.

“The objective is to be part of the detectives and interacting at station level—the [new directorate] has no intention to be different from other detectives, but merely to be the entity dealing with difficult cases,” said De Beer.

This doesn’t make sense. And De Beer can’t be blamed for sounding woolly, because clearly the SAPS’s top brass haven’t made up their minds about what the Hawks should be and do.

The only cases the Hawks are formally investigating are 288 projects that came with the former Scorpions.

To add to the confusion: the ex-Scorpions probing these cases aren’t even sure that they will be selected to the DPCI and are currently ordinary police officers.

To continue moaning about the demise of the Scorpions won’t prevent criminals from looting, robbing or killing people, but the least the public can expect from the government and the police is a force even better equipped and skilled than the Scorpions were to fight organised crime and corruption.

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