/ 26 May 2022

Bheki Cele’s community policing forums plan met with scepticism

Twenty-seven crime intelligence officers have criminal offences of which, Cele explained, 20 are related to contraventions of the Road Traffic Act and seven are of a more serious nature. David Harrison
Relaxed: Police Minister Bheki Cele. (David Harrison)

Unless community policing forums (CPFs) are supported by SAPS, not infiltrated by criminals, and are well funded, Police Minister Bheki Cele’s strategy of using them to reduce crime is a pipe dream, policing experts have said. 

This week, Cele told parliament that his department would prioritise CPFs, legal structures established in the 1990s to facilitate community-police relations in a station precinct.  

“The CPFs and business together with the police must establish and maintain a partnership with the community, promote communication … promote cooperation and ensure that the police fulfil the needs of the community in respect of policing, improve the service of the police to the community, improve transparency and accountability of the SAPS [South African Police Service] and promote joint problem identification and problem-solving,” the minister said. 

But policing experts raised concerns about the limits of such forums.   

Guy Lamb, a criminologist at the political science department at Stellenbosch University, said: “It is good that they are prioritising CPFs, but it does not seem like there is a proper plan or focus on where your priority areas are, how you’re going to support the CPFs, and how you’re going to ensure that they are not corrupt or infiltrated by organised crime or criminals.”

KwaZulu-Natal researcher and violence monitor Mary de Haas encourages community involvement and policing forums, “because it can make a difference”, but also cautions that CPFs may be controlled by councillors or traditional leaders. 

Lamb points out that when CPFs are “captured by the local political considerations [they] are co-opted … and not necessarily to promote safety in our community”. 

There are also problems with adequate budgets, resources and good management.  

When Cele delivered his budget speech in parliament on Tuesday, he compared the police service, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) and the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service (CSPS) to an “active construction site”. 

He said there was much needing repair, demolition, alteration and restoration but that  refurbishments were under way. 

The ‘three-legged pot’, SAPS, Ipid and CSPS, is hell-bent [on] restoring the trust deficit that impacts our overall fight against crime,” he said. 

Part of this “active construction site” was prioritising the country’s 772 CPFs.  

However there is a noticeable discrepancy between the current functional 772 CPF’s the minister mentioned in his budget vote and the 1 150 reported in the police’s recent 2020/21 Annual Report

However, Cele did not address this and announced that of its R100.6-billion annual budget, SAPS allocated R10-million to support community engagement programmes like izimbizo —events normally attended by the police minister where community participation in governance is encouraged.  

De Haas argues that although she encourages community involvement, money should be spent on police training rather than on CPFs and expensive Izimbizo. “The buck starts and stops with [police] management.” 

The minister also said that to build trust, Ipid would open more offices nationwide to expand its June 2021 access and awareness rural strategy plan.  

Cele said a further R1.3-billion had been earmarked to support the gender-based violence and sexual offences plan because “continuous breakthroughs in GBVF-related crimes boosts public confidence in policing”.

He added: “Meanwhile, another additional budget of R100m will be allocated to provinces over and above baselines to support all programmes related to GBVF action plans and FCS Unit [family violence, child protection and sexual offences] resourcing.” This includes the top 30 GBVF hotspot stations nationwide. 

Gender-based violence support desks at all 1153 police stations are available, he said.