The Ability of the SAPS to combat, prevent and investigate crime in the Western Cape

By by Mireille Wenger, MPP, DA Western Cape Spokesperson on Community Safety:

The Constitution clearly sets out the mandate of the South African Police Service. Section 205 states that the objects of the South African Police are to prevent, combat and investigate crime, to maintain public order, to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, and to uphold and enforce the law.

It is therefore vitally important that this House debates how well the police is delivering on this important mandate.  Amartya Sen in his book “The idea of Justice” puts it perfectly when he says “To ask how things are going and whether they can be improved is a constant and inescapable part of the pursuit of justice.”

Justice is the ideal of the modern constitutional state- it gives it purpose and it defines the nature of the relationship between a people and their government.

This relationship is determined by law and the police bear the responsibility and the honour of being its custodians.

Without the police to prevent, combat and investigate criminal acts, no formal justice could be delivered by the State.  We as parliament are the peoples’ representative and as parliament we must ensure that the police are performing to their very best ability and with all the tools that they require to do justice.

But SAPS in the Western Cape is severely and concerningly under-resourced. The Western Cape is the most under-staffed province and police resources are in unremitting decline.

We have 2392 vacancies.  We have 14% less detectives than what we should have. And in visible policing – which is a crime prevention mechanism – there are 2249 less officers patrolling our communities than we ought to have.

Should all the granted posts be filled, it would mean approximately 20 additional officers on the ground for every station in this province, of which 4 would be detectives.

The lack of officers is compounded by the number of officers leaving the Service each year totalling 1127 in the last three financial years. This week we learned that 7000 officers left last year alone. I have put in questions to determine how many of the 7000 were officers from the Western Cape. 668 entry level officers were recruited last year, but this only makes a 22% dent in the number of vacancies. Worryingly, there does not seem to be any plan to fill the other 78% of the shortage we face. By the time the new recruits are trained more officers will have left than those that have joined.

It means that our most vulnerable communities do not have enough police officers to serve them and officers are facing snowballing work-loads.

l have already highlighted in this House the Reservist Policy – which took half a decade to finalise and is so prohibitive that it prevents most from volunteering to become a reservist.

The dilly-dallying on this policy and during which time reservists could not be recruited, the number of police reservists declined from 22 159 in 2008 to a paltry 2700 in 2012 in our province alone. The reduction in reservists in just 1 year, equated to 82 000 less police hours.

The most unfortunate part is that those stations that experience the highest crime levels, and 10 of which are collectively responsible for half of the crime in the province, have some of the lowest number of officers in ratio to the population they serve at 3 -4 times less than the national norm. The people who are most affected by crime have the fewest police officers. This is certainly not in the interest of justice.

It is then unsurprising that the Western Cape has seen a 12% increase in murder and a growing violent crime rate.

But the acting Provincial Police Commissioner is with hands tied. He cannot recruit new officers without the nod from the National Police HQ. He is doing what he can to provide a service to all communities and his men and women are simply spread too thin.

I wrote to General Phiyega setting out the problems and concerns. I received a 3 sentence response to say that resourcing was worrisome to her as well. This is not good enough, she has a responsibility towards the Western Cape to urgently address resources and why the Western Cape specifically has been so negatively affected by under-resourcing.

South Africa has one of the world’s largest single centralised police services. Our Service has transformed drastically since 1994, however it has not managed to transform into a modern, democratic and community-oriented organisation. It has meant that our police model is unresponsive to the needs of communities.

This is perhaps why police brutality is becoming increasingly pervasive. The latest IPID annual report shows that there were 61 reported deaths in police custody and as a result of police action in our province, 4 cases of torture, 1046 cases of assault and 25 cases of police officers raping a person. The Western Cape was responsible for 22% of all complaints received by the IPID. To give you an idea of how bad the situation is, the SAPS nationally now provisions ONE THIRD of its total annual budget, R21 billion, for contingent liability – to cover for potential legal claims against SAPS members.  To put this in context, SAPS provisions the equivalent of the Western Cape’s entire budget for Health, Social Development, Cultural Affairs and Sports and Community Safety just on contingent liability. This money comes at the expense of recruiting needed manpower.

The Institute for Race Relations’ study found that members of the SAPS play a major role in perpetrating serious violent crime. It stated that “It is with good reason that members of the public often do not trust the police and that some are even afraid of the police”. If this is not an indicator that SAPS is in need of urgent reform, then I don’t know what is. Montesquieu said that there is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.

Today we are debating the ability of the SAPS to combat, prevent and investigate crime in the Western Cape.

To get the real answer to this question:

we must ask a man in Nyanga,

we must ask a teenager in Khayelitsha,

we must ask a mother in Manenberg and

we must ask a young woman in Bredasdorp.

I would like to conclude by thanking ordinary police officers for the work that they do day in and day out. And who despite difficult circumstances fight on for justice. As John Rawls said in his work on political philosophy, “the strength of the claims of formal justice, of obedience to system, clearly depend upon the substantive justice of institutions and the possibilities of their reform.”