Special units answer to fighting gangs

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IOL news jan 23  ca  Dan Plato INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS File photo: Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Dan Plato

Cape Town - A unique problem requires a unique response, yet in addressing the spiralling drug crime in the Western Cape it appears to be business as usual for the police.

A report, published last week by the SA Institute of Race Relations (Sairr) shows that the number of drug crimes in the Western Cape is four times higher than the national average.

These statistics are largely operation-driven, and reveal that more arrests are being made by the police. While we welcome the increasingly proactive approach of the police in tackling drug crimes, evidence suggests this is not enough and has not served as a deterrent, with the number of drug crimes continuing to escalate.

The latest statistics, as revealed by Sairr, suggest a 355 percent increase in drug-related crime since 1994.

One should be asking why the increase in arrests has not deterred others from gangsterism and the associated drug crime.

The answer is twofold – first, the so-called “runners”, or street thugs, and not the top gang bosses, are the ones being arrested; and second, of those arrested, the majority will not be convicted and instead be released without serving time for their crime.

Drugs are ravaging our communities and the police are failing to come up with an appropriate solution to stop the gangsters from selling the drugs and the consequent gang violence that erupts for a multitude of reasons.

Between 2007 and 2012, police referred 1 469 murder cases to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Elsies River, Manenberg and Bishop Lavis.

Of the 1 469 murders, 921 prosecutions were finalised, and 174 convictions were secured. This means that over a five-year period fewer than 12 percent of murder cases have ended in a conviction.

This is simply not good enough. Whether this was due to poor evidence collection, unwilling witnesses, poor police work or incompetent prosecutors remains unclear. This unique problem requires a unique response.

The first step should be the immediate re-establishment of the Specialised Drug and Gang Police Units – a call I have made more than once over the past year, and will continue to make until they are re-established.

These units are necessary if we are to tackle drugs and gangs effectively. Specialised policing units have proved to be an effective strategy as they offer:

* Dedicated teams working solely on specific crime categories.

* Specialist skills and expertise needed to investigate, detect, arrest and ensure successful convictions.

* Detectives who have full knowledge of often complex legislation and what is often very sophisticated organised crime.

* Specialised units that are adaptable to changing environments and modus operandi, and have the capacity to build up intelligence.

Specialised units have been identified as a policing need and a priority for the Western Cape by the provincial cabinet.

The re-establishment of these units has also been put forward as a recommendation to the national Minister of Police in our annual policing needs and priorities report.

These units were systematically disbanded in the mid-2000s by the convicted former national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi.

Selebi’s approach, yet to be rectified, was to break down the silos of specialised police so that every police officer was “equal” and could split his or her time between manning the front station desk, filing reports and investigating cases, among their many other tasks.

We still have excellent, highly trained police officers who could be tackling these sophisticated crimes.

Reintroducing the specialised units was also proposed in the original National Development Plan, a policy plan developed by national Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, but this recommendation was erased from the final version endorsed by the national cabinet last year.

No matter how many interventions we have, and no matter how many programmes we introduce to fight gangsterism, we are fighting a losing battle until the minister of police acknowledges the seriousness of the problem and reinstates the specialised gang and drug police units to ensure proper investigations and secure convictions for these crimes.

He has already reinstated the specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units after seeing the urgent need for their reintroduction.

How much longer will it be before he decides to tackle drug and gang-related crime effectively?

* Dan Plato is the Western Cape MEC of Community Safety.

Cape Argus


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