fast little loans
Systemic weaknesses causing rot in the SAPS can be fixed using NDP recommendations - if there’s a political will, says Johan Burger.
Pretoria - In an organisation the size of SAPS, it is to be expected that some members will be found guilty of criminal conduct or disciplinary wrongdoing.
SAPS has almost 160 000 functional armed officials, most of whom are frequently in contact with the worst parts of society.
Unfortunately, however, it is those who break the law and abuse their positions as police officials that taint the reputation of the organisation.
Recently, there was a public outcry over the 1 448 police officers found to have criminal records for serious crimes including murder and rape. About 8 000 more have criminal records for other offences including driving under the influence of alcohol, and almost 9 000 others are facing criminal charges.
In 2011/12, at least five criminal charges for brutality were laid with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) every day, on average. It is the behaviour of these officials that tends to have a more lasting impact on how the police are perceived.
The key problem is that because of a substantial deterioration of the internal management systems over the past decade and more, the ability of SAPS to identify and take action against bad police is largely ineffective.
This is reflected in the sad reality that in the 2011/12 financial year, Ipid received 2 320 criminal cases against police members, which is 330 percent more than in 2001/02.
This figure excludes the far larger number of internal criminal investigations undertaken by the police each year. It is for this reason that more than 1 000 police officials were arrested for criminal offences since September 2010 in Gauteng alone.
However, there is a positive side to the police, which is less publicised and overshadowed by negative reports. A large proportion of SAPS is represented by dedicated and hard-working officers who hold the organisation together and do their work as well as they can under extremely difficult circumstances.
According to the latest Victims of Crime Survey, undertaken in 2011 and conducted among almost 30 000 households, 62.4 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the police.
Although this had decreased slightly from the previous year (64.6 percent), it is linked to the extent to which people see police active in their neighbourhood.
As most members of the public do not have direct interactions with the police, they tend to assume the police are doing what they are supposed to be doing when they see them patrolling their neighbourhoods.
While this is a positive sign, there are indications that the public perception of the police is declining. Because of the high levels of corruption, most do not trust the police.
According to the Human Sciences Research Council in 2011, two out of three people thought corruption was widespread in the SAPS. This resulted in 42 percent having any level of trust in the police at all.
Nevertheless, there are many examples of excellent work by individual police members and units that only occasionally get reported in the media.
One such example is Sergeant Moeletsi Mamatela, an investigator attached to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), or Hawks, in the Free State.
In August he was honoured by the national commissioner of police, General Riah Phiyega, as the most improved DPCI member in the country.
He also received the award for best overall investigator from the DPCI.
Among his many successes is the arrest of those responsible for an armed robbery at Metsimaholo Municipality and recovery of the R327 000 they had stolen.
Another example of good police work generally missed by the media includes the recent arrests of four armed suspects by the SAPS’s National Intervention Unit in the Western Cape.
These arrests resulted in the confiscation of eight firearms and dozens of rounds of ammunition. The suspects were probably involved in violent crimes and chances are the arrests prevented more innocent people from being killed or injured. While many will say this is what the police are supposed to do, it is not easy to apprehend armed gangs that are often willing to kill police officers rather than go to jail.
There are many other positive aspects worth mentioning about SAPS.
The organisation expanded rapidly over the past decade and has a police:public ratio of 307:100 000, which compares favourably with the UN guideline of 300, and the 303 set by the European Institute for Crime Prevention.
Over the past decade, the SAPS budget increased at an average rate of 12 percent, well above inflation.
In the last financial year, the growth in the budget rate slowed to 7.1 percent, but remained above the inflation rate of 6.3 percent.
The SAPS budget in 2013/14 is R68 billion, making it one of the best-resourced government departments.
The increased resources have enabled the police to significantly enhance their visibility, which has been noticed by the public, particularly in Gauteng.
A good example is the 52 percent increase in the number of police patrols nationally in the 2011/12 financial year from 3.8 million to 5.8 million.
In the past two financial years, the police’s reaction time to calls for assistance also improved markedly. The average reaction time for serious crimes in progress showed a marked improvement from 31 to 19 minutes, from 39 to 24 minutes for serious crimes that already occurred, and from 33 to 21 minutes for other complaints.
SAPS has also on many occasions demonstrated a well-developed ability to plan for and implement highly successful security operations around major sporting events, national and local elections and international conferences.
The ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003 is a good example. In that year, when crime peaked at its highest levels since the advent of democracy in 1994, SAPS, with almost 40 000 fewer officials than in 2010 during the World Cup, was able to ensure a largely incident-free event.
Similarly, in 2010, with a much larger event, the police surprised sceptics and executed an exemplary security operation. The result was a successful World Cup with low levels of mostly petty crimes such as theft, and no serious security incidents.
The success of the event was summed up by a US State Department spokesman, who was said: ”It was the first time an African nation hosted the World Cup, and South Africa proved its ability to do so quite nobly.”
It is clear that SAPS has enough good and dedicated police officers, along with other resources, to execute its mandate. Yet there remain far too many persistent systemic weaknesses, such as too many senior managers at national and provincial level who are unable to do their jobs, inadequate station command and control, poor discipline and inadequate systems for recognising and rewarding excellence at station level.
Much of these are a result of what the National Development Plan (NDP) describes as SAPS’s “serial management crises over the past few years”.
The good news is that the systemic problems can be fixed and there are sensible recommendations in the NDP:
* The national commissioner and deputy national commissioners should be appointed on a competitive basis. This should follow strict evaluation of the shortlisted candidates by a selection panel on the basis of objective criteria.
* A national policing board with multisectoral and multidisciplinary expertise should be established to set standards for recruitment, selection, appointment and promotion and also to develop a code of ethics for the police.
* All officers should undergo a competency assessment to assess whether they meet the required standard for their ranks.
SAPS is not the only part of the government facing challenges, though it is one of the departments which the public most need to trust and have faith in.
The police service has a core of highly skilled and dedicated police officials, but whose best efforts are often undermined by leadership problems, high levels of corruption, and other systemic weaknesses. These can be fixed.
A good starting point will be the implementation of the recommendations in the NDP. But for this to happen we need decisive political will and urgent intervention.
* Dr Johan Burger is a senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies.
** The views expressed here not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.