LINGELETHU West Police Station, the station with the smallest premises in Khayelitsha, has no detention cells, no offices where suspects and witnesses can be interviewed and has to send its detainees to Harare Police Station – 3km away.
The Department of Public Works had blocked a request to expand the station, the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry heard yesterday during the testimony of Lingelethu West station commissioner Colonel Mike Reitz.
Reitz is the first witness to be called by the police since the commission, investigating alleged police inefficiencies and a breakdown in relations between police and residents, started its hearings three weeks ago.
During cross-examination, commission evidence leader advocate Nazreen Bawa asked Reitz about letters he had written to the provincial police office complaining about the lack of cells. Bawa also pointed to an application he had made to the City of Cape Town regarding a piece of land adjacent to the police station.
Reitz confirmed this, but said he had given up because the process had been dragging on since 2012.
Bawa said, according to documents from the city, the application was approved in 2012, but the national Department of Public Works had asked the city to cancel the application.
Reitz said this was news to him. Bawa said, according to letters from Reitz to the provincial office, he had raised concerns about Lingelethu West not having holding cells and offices to interview suspects.
He had suggested that a shipping container be used, but he was told it did not comply with regulations.
Bawa said this posed a danger to members of the public and there was a chance of suspects escaping.
Commission chairwoman Kate O’Regan said it was clear that there were space constraints at the station.
A total of 167 officers have been employed at the station, 30 of whom were deployed to the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court. It also has 30 reservists. A single station detective handled at least 130 dockets at a time, but Reitz said they were managing. There was a problem of absenteeism, with some officers abusing the leave system, but this could be managed.
He also rejected findings of investigations conducted by the police’s own inspectorate that painted a grim picture of poor management and pointed to a litany of systemic problems. He admitted that the station faced some challenges, but said they were “manageable”.
“It is a big organisation. There will be complaints from the public. But I do not believe that there is a breakdown in relations between the police and residents,” Reitz said.
Regarding documents that were not taken to court by investigating officers, Reitz said they had requested a list of all the cases from the National Prosecuting Authority, but had not received one.