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Cape Town - SA police detectives are so poorly trained that some struggle to take down statements, MPs were told on Wednesday.
The police service is also unclear on how many detectives it has, and corruption is further bedevilling the situation, it emerged during a “Detective Dialogue” at Parliament on Wednesday.
Organised by the National Assembly’s police oversight committee, the gathering brought together policing experts and civil society organisations and saw a range of issues come under the spotlight.
The dialogue is intended to home in on the challenges confronting detectives and come up with solutions.
Warrant Officer Gladstone Kasper briefed the meeting about “a day as a detective”.
“Language barriers caused misinterpretation by not always reflecting a true version of the alleged crime committed,” said Kasper.
He said there was also the “element of corruption within our own ranks”.
He added that “poor statement-taking by the first responder to serious crime scenes” hindered detectives’ work, which a policing expert described as often being “sloppy”.
Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said the National Development Plan released by the National Planning Commission stressed the need for “professionalising” the police service.
The number of detectives had increased by 11 percent from 20 291 in 2009/10 to 22 594 in 2010/11, and now made up 14 percent of the total number of the SAPS’s 155 000 sworn officers (career police officers with rank and who have taken oath of office) in SA.
Burger said that some detectives were sitting with 100 case dockets each “at any given time”, when between 50 and 60 was regarded as manageable.
“Heavy case-loads create impossible time and other pressures that inhibit successful investigations and the finalisation of dockets,” said Burger.
He described how detectives added to their burden “by their own sloppy work through poor docket administration, poor quality of statements and bad time-management”. Burger said questions needed to be asked about the assessment criteria for detectives – and recommended that detectives make up 20 percent of “sworn members” of the police.
He said increasing the number of detectives could reduce the average case-load.
Irvin Kinnes, who facilitated the forum, said language was “a major problem” when it came to taking statements.
“And what is the number of detectives that exist within the SA Police Service?
“A head count would help us do proper planning,” Kinnes said.
The Public Service Commission’s Phumelele Nzimande said mentoring should be introduced as it is a “very specialised management tool” which could go a long way to help detectives.
In a presentation on forensic laboratories and the effective use of evidence, forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow said that in many cases, evidence was compromised – as in the drunken-driving case involving senior ANC member Tony Yengeni – or lost or “bungled”, as happened in the Fred van der Vyver murder trial.
Klatzow said other problems included the disappearance of evidence, such as cocaine from the Pretoria forensic laboratory, and the “failure to train ground staff correctly in elementary crime procedure”.
SA Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) chief executive Kalyani Pillay said the banking sector was seriously affected by organised crime.
“From a business perspective, people look at the police and are unhappy,” she said.
SAPS Major-General Charles Johnson told the gathering that R40 million had been budgeted for detectives.
He said the SAPS was aware of the problems facing it.
He said during the 2011/12 financial year only 2 552 members had been trained instead of the target number of 2 952.