Police staff shortages negatively affecting crime levels

Dan Plato MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

Replies to a range of parliamentary questions reveal that the Western Cape, in comparison to other provinces, has the highest number of understaffed police stations and the largest personnel shortage overall. At the same time, the number of reservists deployed by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the Western Cape has been decimated since 2008 to a fraction of its former numbers. The National Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa cannot delay any longer in providing this province with the resources it needs. I have written to the minister to request that he takes immediate action to address these shortages.

In November last year, Minister Mthethwa admitted to the National Assembly that the Western Cape Police Service has a shortage of 1012 members, which accounts for 61% of the national shortage of 1672 members (incorporating surplus figures). Out of 9 provinces, this province accounts for 61% of the police staffing shortages. He also admitted that 128 out of 150 stations in this province are understaffed – this means that 85% of police stations in this province do not have enough police officers.

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Without sufficient resources and manpower from the National Government, the Provincial Police Commissioner, General Arno Lamoer, and his service of 17 000 men and women (SAPS ACT employees) are unable to properly carry out their duties effectively.

From 2009/2010 – 2012/2013 – 1 527 SAPS Act members left the service in the Western Cape. Only 2 208 members were recruited.

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This resulted in a net gain of only 681 officers during the past 4 years. No funding was made available for 2013/2014 for the Western Cape by the National SAPS so no additional posts could be allocated. This is concerning when provinces such as the Free State have, according to the Minister, 920 surplus members. Surely it should be a matter of urgency that these officers are relocated to where they are most needed.

To make matters worse, the reservist corps which provided much needed support and act as a force multiplier on a volunteer basis has seen severe declines.

A police reservist can fulfil the following functions in the SAPS:

Category A Reservists: Functional Policing
These reservists – carry out duties in all operational facets of policing, excluding specialized functional duties, at station, area or provincial level; may wear a uniform; and undergo training in the relevant aspects of functional policing.

Category B Reservists: Support Services
These reservists – carry out support duties at national, provincial, area or station level and may not perform functional duties; may not wear a uniform or be issued with a firearm; may only perform support duties where necessary; and undergo training in the legal aspects, policies and instructions that are applicable to their specific duties.

Category C Reservists: Specialized Functional Policing
These reservists – have specific skills or expertise which can be used for operational duties (these reservists include pilots, doctors, divers, social workers and psychologists); carry out duties that relate to their fields of expertise; may, with the approval of their commanders, wear uniform; and undergo training in the legal aspects, policies and instructions that are applicable to their duties and for such periods as may be determined by the National Commissioner or the provincial commissioner.

Category D Reservists: Rural and Urban Sector Policing
These reservists – carry out operational duties as part of sector policing in urban and rural areas in a specific sector or in specified areas as determined by their commanders; may wear uniform, depending on their duties; and are trained in the aspects of sector policing and/or functional policing that apply to their duties. Additional training is needed if they are involved in sector policing or functional operations.

A reservist who is appointed in one category can be transferred to any other category if he or she meets all the requirements for the specific category and has undergone or is willing to undergo the required training for that category. (Source: www.saps.gov.za )

The number of paid reservists used by the SAPS in the Western Cape has dropped from 22 159 in 2008 to 2 759 in 2012.  This is an 88% decline and effectively means that a police service of close to 40 000 men and women patrolling the streets of our province to make our people safe, has become less than half of that. At the same time, there has been tremendous growth in the population size of the Western Cape (from 4,5 million to close to 6 million). The reality is that we are facing a future where we will have far too few police officers to ensure the safety of an increasing population.

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Last year the provincial SAPS, because of restrictions on the recruitments of new reservists due to an almost 5 year “moratorium” on reservists by the National Minister while finalising a new policy, simply aimed to maintain the same reservist work hours of the previous year. The result however was 1 100 fewer reservists on our streets with a net decrease in 82 000 police hours last year. The official reason, as provided in the Provincial SAPS Annual Report, was that more reservists were dismissed from the service, which means they could not even maintain the number of work hours.

The national government has spent a great deal of time tweaking existing policies on police reservists with the aim of improving this function. But, ironically, these changes have made it far more difficult for someone to become a reservist.  I regularly encounter former reservists who have offered their services to the SAPS only to be turned down. I also regularly encounter members of the public who tell me that they want to train to become reservists but have been prevented from doing so.

I firmly believe that this under-resourcing is negatively affecting crime in this province, as reflected by the crime statistics.

Figure 1: Crime increases since 2008

Category 2008 2012
Murder 2 346 2580
Total Sexual Crimes 8772 8776
Attempted murder 1 766 3280
Assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm 23 086 24519
Common assault 31 680 35603
Common robbery 8 439 12427
Robbery with aggravating circumstances 12 729 16738

Attempted murder has skyrocketed since2008, from1776 to 3280 last year.

Burglary at residential premises, which was on the decline up until 2008, saw a sharp increase from 42 000 in 2008 to 49599 last year.

Assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm has increased from 23 086 in 2008 to 24 519 last year.

I have therefore written to Minister Mthethwa to request his urgent intervention as this situation is untenable. I have noted the recent recruitment drive in Mitchells Plain to appoint around 600 new officers. While this is a step in the right direction it is only half the number we need, and these recruits will only be on our streets in 12-24 months’ time. We need action now.

The Western Cape Government has taken a number of action steps, as part of our oversight function, to resolve this problem including:

  • In our annual Policing Needs and Priorities Report highlighted the reports by numerous communities with regards to police resource shortages and a lack of visible policing. We recommended that additional resources be provided, and that the SAPS review their resource allocation to identify shortcomings and make the necessary corrections. We have done this since 2012.
  • Raised directly with the National Minister of Police at the MINMEC forum – our PNP quarterly reports and the on-going concerns of residents with regards to sector policing.
  • In the most recent MINMEC report submitted to the National l Government, we identified that Sector policing had not yet been implemented in many of the areas in the Western Cape, which impacts negatively on policing especially in rural areas. We requested that the allocation of police staff and other resources should be done in a manner which prioritizes sector policing before allocating staff to other policing activities. We pointed out that in almost every community we have visited, the lack of visible policing has been raised as a concern.
  • When we released the concerning police-population ratios last year the Provincial SAPS were summoned before the Standing Committee to explain.

I have now written to Minister Mthethwa stating that it is clear from the statistics provided by his department that the Western Cape is in desperate need of police resources, and, while we welcome the recent steps to recruit some new officers, two years is too long to wait for these new recruits to be deployed onto our streets.  I have therefore urged him to call up existing police reservists – there are 20 000 of them, in order to capacitate the SAPS under the command of General Lamoer. Our Provincial SAPS cannot do its job without sufficient resources. The longer the National Minister waits, the worse off the people of this province will be, and the more vulnerable are our existing police officers.

I have therefore called on National Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, to do his job and rectify this situation immediately. The police are obliged to prevent, combat and investigate crime and protect and secure the inhabitants of this province, but they need enough manpower and resources to be able to perform their core duties. It is now time that the Minister responsible for policing ensures that the officers are able to their work and keep us safe.