Fight against drugs and gangs needs resources and specialised units

Dan Plato, MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

Note: This extract is based on a speech delivered by Minister Dan Plato during the debate in the National Council of Provinces on security: Together waging a concerted fight against gangsterism and drugs in our communities.

The Western Cape Department of Community Safety recognises that crime is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon.

Different communities have different safety concerns and needs.

Interventions to create safe environments and communities in which crime is less likely to occur need to take the differences into account. Meaningful partnerships are at the heart of the Department of Community Safety’s Whole-of-Society approach to increase safety in our province.

The Western Cape Government is committed to working Better Together in the fight against crime.

My discussion here today will focus on the three things we need if we are to be successful in the ongoing battle against gangsterism and drugs in our communities. We have to:

–        Speak frankly about the problems, challenges and difficulties faced when dealing with gangs and substance abuse;

–        Keep politics out of our solution-driven approach discussed here today and implemented in the entire country; and

–        Ensure that every person, department, and level of government plays an active role to eliminate the scourge of gangsterism and drugs.

Chairperson, we have to be frank about the problems we face. The drug floodgates opened the moment the specialised drug and gang units was disbanded. That is why we are calling on national government to please reinstate them to bring back normality in our communities. The statistics speak for themselves: Between 2003/04 and 2012/13 drug related crime in the Western Cape has increased from 19 940 reported cases to 82 000 reported cases – an increase of 311.5%. During the same period the Western Cape Province contributed more than a third of the drug related crime in the country.

Though increased arrests can also be attributed to better policing, one would expect that over time these crimes in itself should go down. This is not what we are seeing. The fact that these crimes continue to increase overall is an indication that current policing efforts are insufficient to address the problem.

What is extremely worrying is the increase in youth gangs or the youth’s involvement in gangs. We are seeing kids as young as 10 to 14 years old running around with guns, peddling drugs close to or even on school grounds.

The prevalence of guns in our communities is a cause for concern. Up to 35 weapons are being confiscated per week on the Cape Flats. That equates to roughly 140 guns per month and more than 1600 guns per year. These are the weapons being used to kill our innocent children, members of our communities, and our police officers. Some of these weapons are even licenced firearms. Where are these guns coming from? Who are supplying the guns? It is critical that police intelligence begins focusing on the trafficking of weapons in the province. Sufficient reprimands should also be in place for gun owners who are not adhering to their responsibility in keeping their fire-arms safe. While citizens have a right to become licensed firearm owners, they have a duty to secure their guns.

Chairperson we should ask the frank question of why current efforts to address the problems above are failing. Why are South African Police Services (SAPS) actions unable to bring down gang and drug related crime? Why are SAPS intelligence not infiltrating where the guns are coming from, where the drugs are coming from and why are the gangsters and criminals not off our streets?

We cannot play politics with peoples’ lives.

We cannot play politics in the fight against gangsterism and drugs.

We cannot play politics in looking at finding solutions to why we are not winning the war.

An answer applicable to the Western Cape is the serious shortage of policing resources available. Last year, then Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa admitted that 128 out of 150 police stations in the province are understaffed.

Chairperson, 85% of police stations in this province do not have enough police officers.

The Police in the Western Cape are experiencing a shortage of 1012 members. This accounts for 61% of the police shortages nationwide, or put another way – two thirds of the shortage are in the Western Cape.

I believe the Provincial Police Commissioner is trying to do the best that he can with the limited resources available, but clearly the problem needs an urgent solution from the national government and the first order should be redirecting police resources from those provinces which have a clearly identified over resourced police service.

We have to ask what we are doing; what is everyone’s role and responsibility to fight gangsterism and drugs together.

One of the Western Cape senior Generals recently admitted that the police in the province are not able to beat gangs on the Cape Flats.

Recently, at a meeting in Bonteheuwel the residents begged for protection from gangs and drug-related violence. Community members made calls specifically for specialised units to be reintroduced.

I have repeatedly called on both the National Minister of Police and National Commissioner of Police to urgently provide the Western Cape with additional police resources and reinstate the specialised gang and drug units.

The lack of resources adds additional strain to a police service which is already stretched quite thin in the province.

This is why the Western Cape Government has at times called for the temporary deployment of the Army in hotspot areas facing continued gang violence and shootings. As a visible peace-keeping force, the temporary deployment of the Army can free up the police to do the necessary investigative work needed to ensure arrests. These arrests must translate into convictions to take gangsters off our communities’ streets. The army was recently deployed in other provinces to restore calm in a situation of community unrest, but not in the Western Cape when people are dying from gangsters’ bullets.

How can the police expect to curb the violence, curb the effect of gangsterism and drugs if they do not have the adequate resources to eradicate the problems. The approach to the problem of gangsterism and drugs cannot be a ‘business as usual’ approach.

Chairperson, we need the specialised gang and drug units to be reintroduced. These units possess the necessary resources and expertise to investigate and make arrests and come with a track record of success. Police Commissioner Phiyega recently boasted that since the re-establishment of another specialised unit, the SAPS’s Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences specialised units four years ago, there were a combined 36 225 year imprisonments and 695 life imprisonments in combatting the heinous crimes against women and children. We need the same approach to achieve success in combatting gang violence.

Chairperson, we need to bring back the police reservists in the ongoing fight for safer communities. We need to ensure that interventions from all those involved not only tackle increasing crime rates in our country, and that of gangsterism and drugs in particular, but also eliminates the causes and opportunities for these crimes.

The sacking of so many thousands of reservists impacts severely on police manpower resources at police stations. It impacts on police visibility on our streets. We hamstrung the police so much and still believe the SAPS must win the fight against drugs and gangs.

Chairperson, the Department of Community Safety and the Western Cape Government, has already adopted a whole-of-society approach to increase safety in our communities.

Through our partnership with the religious fraternity in the province, our Youth, Safety and Religion Partnership is providing educational and development alternatives to youths at risk during school holidays. For the June 2014 school holiday period the Department made more than R1.6 million available to more than 80 organisations in the province reaching more than 14 000 youths.

Chairperson, through the Western Cape Community Safety Act’s implementation we are establishing the Police Ombudsman – a first for the Western Cape and the country – responsible for addressing complaints received from people regarding inefficiencies in policing and poor service delivery from the police. We believe that by identifying and addressing systemic problems in the police, as was done recently through the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, the police will be in a better position to provide a better service to our communities.

The act will also introduce a more structured approach to coordinating the work of neighbourhood watches to ensure that they maximise the service they provide.

Through our Chrysalis academy, the Western Cape Government is providing development and training opportunities to youths between the ages of 17 and 25 to empower them economically, morally and spiritually. The programme links graduates with EPWP work placements and aims to place more than 1500 graduates in the 2014/15 financial year.

The success of the Chrysalis academy is being replicated with the establishment of a second, similar academy at Wolwekloof just outside of Ceres. This will enable the Western Cape Government to reach even more youths at risk.

Chairperson, the recent findings of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry shows that there are very real policing inefficiencies in our communities especially with regards to gangsterism and drugs. One of the Commission’s recommendations is that the SAPS mechanism for determining human resource allocation is reviewed immediately by national police management.

I welcome the Provincial Commissioner’s support of the Commission’s work. We are working closely with him to increase the safety of our communities in the province.

The Western Cape Government is fully committed in playing its part in addressing the scourge of drugs and gangs on our communities. We need all role-players, especially National Government through the South African Police Services to play their part. We require President Jacob Zuma to make good on his promises made in the past to provide answers and resources to the areas affected by gangsterism and drugs.

Chairperson, we ask these, we plead for these, because we cannot afford another life lost.

I urge this house to hear our calls.