/ 17 October 2009

Top cops ‘knew stats were cooked’

Western Cape police commissioner Mzwandile Petros and one of his former assistants, Anwa Dramat — now head of the Hawks — were informed at least two years ago that police stations in the province were manipulating crime statistics, according to internal police reports leaked to the Mail & Guardian.

Petros claimed this week that one of the leaked reports, headed “Manipulation of crime statistics” and apparently sent to him on December 29 2006 by Jan Solomons, then director of the police’s Western Cape evaluation service, was a fake.

He was not willing to discuss the other leaked police reports that reveal they were warned about the manipulation of crime statistics at police stations as far back as 2007.

The disputed report says indications are “that quite a substantial number of stations are involved in manipulation and to conduct a full-scale investigation a team of at least eight or 10 officers will have to be appointed”.

“Your (Petros’s) decision whether to embark on a full-scale uncovering of a tradition whereby top management had deliberately been misled will thus be needed.”

Confronted with Solomons’s report this week, Petros initially told the M&G he had not seen it. “The report never came to me; it does not have to come to me,” he said. “If I have to read all the inspection reports, I will never do my other work. There are people tasked with certain responsibilities and they go and rectify things.”

But later in the week he summoned the M&G back to his offices to say he had now established that the report was a fake.

In a bizarre move, the interview was filmed by a police cameraman. Solomons, now director of the SAPS national inspectorate, attended both interviews. Asked if he wrote the report, he said “no”, and let Petros do the talking.

“There’s no report like this, absolutely no report,” said Petros. “This is a scandal of the first degree, fabricating information. We’ll be dealing with this thing and we just wanted to have it on record.”

The report in Solomons’s name says that as a result of information received on the manipulation of crime statistics at Porterville police station, 16 dockets were examined. It was found that “serious misconduct” could be proved against two senior officers.

“Case dockets were registered to manipulate the crime status of this station,” the report says. Random checks were then conducted at other stations, including Piketberg and Paarl East, where “similar situations prevailed”.

In June this year the Western Cape’s community safety minister Lennit Max asked the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) to investigate stations in Paarl, Paarl East, Mbekweni, Wellington and Oudtshoorn.

Max said he turned to the ICD because former acting national commissioner Tim Williams failed to answer his request, copied to Petros, for an independent audit of the manipulation of crime figures in the province. The ICD probe is ongoing.

Petros said he would not discuss other internal police reports leaked to the M&G. These claim that:

  • Dramat, now head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks) that replaced the Scorpions, was sent a report by a top police director on the “alleged manipulation of crime statistics at the Bishop Lavis police station” in June 2007.
  • The report revealed that two captains at the station “confirmed the practice of manipulation of crime statistics by the previous management”, appending their affidavits. In one a police captain said dockets were not always opened for attempted murder, while another said that in some cases when a shooting took place at a house and no one was injured, the charge was changed to malicious damage to property.
  • Dramat could not be contacted as he is overseas, Petros said. Questions sent to Dramat’s office went unanswered and his spokesperson did not respond to messages.
  • A report by the SAPS national inspectorate on the Knysna police station in September 2007, addressed to Petros, showed there were concerns that “all cases reported to the police are not registered as crime. The fact that case dockets are not opened and registered as crime on the crime administration system (CAS) enhances the station’s performance when measured in terms of the performance chart.”
  • In some instances housebreaking and theft from vehicles were registered as malicious damage to property, “considered a less serious offence, as it is not identified as a priority crime”.

  • In a report on Gugulethu police station, apparently sent to Petros on September 18 last year, Solomons outlined how seven dockets were discovered in the crime office that were not registered. Cases included common assault and grievous bodily harm. The inspection found that four inquest dockets were filed as deaths from natural causes, but no medical reports or death certificates were obtained to indicate the cause of death before the cases were closed. Three involved babies.
  • In an inspection by the national inspectorate at Delft station in November 2008, a number of police hand radios could not be produced and the CAS numbers recorded for the missing equipment related to theft of hairdryers and dustbins.

‘Chandler used to set an example’
The South African Police Service needed to make an example of someone and, in Lansdowne police station commissioner Charlene Chandler, “they found someone to hang out and dry”, says her lawyer, Michael Bagraim.

Bagraim told the Mail & Guardian that senior superintendent Chandler and two other police officers were told to plead guilty at an internal disciplinary hearing on whether they manipulated police crime statistics.

As part of an arrangement between the prosecution and the defence, he said, they were told they would be suspended for three months and sent back to work.

Two had been taken back, but Chandler was fired last week.

“My client was advised by another lawyer on this matter. It worked out fine for the other two and we are now taking that decision on appeal.”

Bagraim said Chandler would object to the difference of treatment meted out to the officers and the alleged breach of the agreement.

Chandler was found guilty of manipulating crime statistics, failing to comply with a national instruction and defeating the ends of justice.

The other two officers, Inspectors Jerome Norris and Candice van der Spuy, were found guilty and dismissed, a sanction suspended for six months. They will be moved from Lansdowne to Green Point police station when they return to work.

After 20 years of police service, Chandler will not be able to rejoin the force unless she wins her appeal. She was voted runner-up in the province’s contest for best station commissioner last year.

Western Cape provincial commissioner Mzwandile Petros said he had to take action when he had proof of the fiddling of police dockets at Lansdowne police station. He was amazed by the public sympathy Chandler’s case had aroused.

“The public was with that station commander. They were supporting her and saying ‘why her?’,” said Petros. “But we had a case against Lansdowne and we had to act.”

Meanwhile, the M&G has established that Hariram Badul, commissioner at Mountain Rise police station in Pietermaritzburg, is still at work while under investigation for alleged manipulation of crime statistics.

Phindile Radebe, police spokeperson in KwaZulu-Natal, said the investigation was continuing and no charges had been laid.