Community Safety: Extract from speech on the Debate on the State of the Province Address

Mark Wiley

DA Western Cape spokesperson for Community Safety and Member of Western Cape Provincial Parliament

Extract from speech on the Debate on the State of the Province Address

Release: Embargoed 17:00 21 February 2012

Policing management in the Provinces of the new South Africa was always going to be a big challenge.

Coming out of the heavy and brutal era of the 1980’s and 90’s our fledgling democracy was determined to break with the past and allow policing to become more ‘people friendly’, in line with the human rights culture embodied in the interim Constitution.

For a while even the Provinces were given, via their MECs, limited executive powers – a real say over police matters.

But this did not last.

The final Constitution of 1998 saw all but oversight functions clawed back to Pretoria.

The Provinces could watch, monitor and comment – no more.

But the Human Rights culture continued for a while and charge offices became service centres. The SAPS were there to serve the people – SERVAMUS was the motto.

CPFs were created to bring civilians into formerly forbidden territory and Neighbourhood Watches sprung up as the communities ‘eyes and ears’.

Taking ownership of their communities.

Regrettably, as the dream of a ‘new dawn’ failed to arrive for many South Africans, reality set in and many citizens crossed the line into criminality, especially those who had sacrificed the most by becoming frontline soldiers in the freedom struggle – only to be forgotten by their comrades in high office.

Organized crime syndicates moved in, the borders became porous and corruption flourished. A crime wave began.

At first the government absorbed the statistics, saying that the 24,000 murders a year, the second highest rate in the world, would be the norm.

Civil and business South Africa became a fortress. It was ‘all hands on deck’.

Then something happened.

South Africa bid for, and won, international spectacles like the World Rugby championships, later the World Soccer Cup. But these massive global events came with conditions – invest in security and reduce crime or no events for South Africa. And we did.

But something else also happened. Successive Police Commissioners ( and some Ministers) became power drunk with all the macho specialist units, the air wings, the confrontational approach of the counter demonstrator and anti terrorist units. Investment in intelligence shot up and covert operations became the norm.

Service centres became charge offices again. CPFs were taken back by SAPS for tighter control.

In the Western Cape the cordial relations between the responsible department and SAPS management got strained, with the oversight response team from DOCS first being given the run-around during investigations and later simply shut out altogether. The days of having free access to monitor police activity –or inactivity, were over. Access ID cards signed by the Prov Comm ceased to exist.

Paradoxically, Citizen participation in N/Watches, CPF’s and rapidly multiplying CIDs were at an alltime high, but so too were the complaints about under resourced stations, lack of police response to callouts, police brutality and unrealistic crime statistics.

Something had to be done.

But how could one check the allegations without a mechanism to do so?

How could one contribute to the Annual Police Plan without reliable, up-to-date info?

DOCS conducted a Province wide survey in 2010, using CPFs and N/Watches extensively. They managed to launch an agreed pilot project for designated and paid CPF leaders to inspect police stations at the end of 2011. The SAPs got cold feet after some months and access was withdrawn.

But the message was clear – a law was needed to make this oversight thing a reality.

The Community Safety Bill will do just that.

Is there a need for it?

Sadly, yes. Despite extraordinary amounts of money, some R60bn, being spent on the police budget and SAPS numbers approaching 200,000, the strength and service levels at stations is at an all time low.

The distributions of resources following the World Cup have come to nothing for the local cop shop.

This has had a huge impact on morale at station level. Sick leave has soared and one can rarely find a shift at some stations where the norm of two vehicles with two personnel per sector per shift is a reality.

On the contrary, at most stations this is now a physical impossibility as members on course, maternity leave, detached duty and provincial operations are kept on the shift roster – even though it is obvious that they will not be present. If someone books in sick or stays AWOL shifts can barely muster a single van and charge office staff.

Worse is to come. A recent directive has mandated that a percentage of each shift must form part of a cluster response team.

The RAG (Resource Allocation Guideline) is simply ignored.

At one prominent Peninsula police station they currently have 4 detectives, none fully qualified, and some 2000 cases.

At another over the Festive season the shift commander refused to allow the duty van to investigate an almost new and abandoned motor bike- they had more important things to do. The local Neighbourhood Watch brought it in, only to be threatened and publicly humiliated, so they put a photo of the bike in the media. Immediately the bike was claimed as being stolen by the owner. The SAPS still did not register a case.

In another case a habitual criminal has taken on the status of ‘untouchable’ as he peddles drugs to school children and tourists in Kalk Bay. This man has been photographed by the public, monitored and reported endlessly, but whenever he is picked up, by the Metro police, he gets released by SAPS – despite a record that reads like a novel. 20 Variations of aliases, 13 different home addresses, 4 cases where he was accused, 13 convictions and has had 6 warrants of arrest.

And all this in only the Western Cape! The National database access has been withdrawn at station level. Why is this?

These types of complaints appear widespread, the Khayelisha stations, Belhar, Cape Town, Ocean View routinely get bad press.

Last month the 10111 number in George was inoperable for two weeks. If one cannot even call the police in an emergency and the police are unable to repair an essential service line in 14 days then there are serious service delivery and management problems.

Upon enquiry the Provincial Commissioner often refers to the National head office for shortages regarding resources, manpower and the building and repair of stations. But in interviews both the National Minister and Commissioner have stated that the Provincial Commissioner is responsible for both the planning and prioritizing.

The same argument has been used with regard to the reestablishment of specialist units for drugs and gangs. “ I have been assured by the provincial commissioner that…there is no need for a gang unit”. So says the Minister of Police in December. So no progress is made because no Provincial request has been made and fighting massive organized crime is left to individual officers thinly spread around the Province.

As has been shown in the last few months there has been a concerted effort by organized crime to take over the both the City’s and the Province’s night spots and thereby have control of the enormous flow of drugs into them. Despite a flood of public complaints of blatant dealing it went unchecked.

Were the police only pushed to action and make arrests after the media put a spotlight on the issue? Or was it the prospect of explaining to this Parliament about the matter that prompted action?

Drug busts of some R12bn over the last 22 months prompted the Provincial Commissioner to say it “ was just the tip of the iceberg”. But even here one of the biggest drug busts was initiated by a member of the public as have numerous other crime prevention successes where the public, in their tens of thousands, contribute time, money and expertise to keep themselves safe.

The SAPS response is to less available, inflexible and less efficient.

It cannot continue like this.

This Province recognizes those dedicated officers who, through thick and thin, try their best to serve and protect the public. They need support, as do the many thousands of civil volunteers who want to assist in the fight against crime.

This Province has, consistent with its slogan “Better Together”, taken the bold step to put a plan in place to join all law abiding persons into a powerful team. The Community Safety Bill will test the police management’s commitment to service delivery as well as its understanding of the Law.

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