15/12/2009 Newly graduated members of the SAPS during the passing out parade at SAPS Training Institute in Pretoria. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Cape Town -

A grim picture of missed crime fighting targets, and an apparent trend of lowering year-on-year performance goals, has emerged in the SAPS 2013/14 annual report.

Lower crime detection rates – “target not achieved” in a range of crimes including crimes against women and children, a government priority – as well as declining numbers of arrests for key crimes like murder; fewer crime prevention operations; and a greater number of escapes are detailed in the 340-page annual report.

It provides few, if any, explanations for these declines.

And, while community protests over services have steadily increased in recent years, the report shows less intelligence is being received: the number of local station and cluster intelligence reports has dropped by more than 50 percent to 41 763, down from 87 178 in 2012/13.

This has effectively undone previous improvements on the intelligence front. In 2011/12, there were 82 680 such local reports.

A similar trend of reversing previous years’ improvements has emerged over the number of arrests, which has dropped in many categories, including murder. But more people were bust for business robbery, carjacking, aggravated robbery, illegal possession of drugs and shoplifting.

In 2013/14 a total of 14 413 people were arrested for murder, down from 17 145 in 2012/13. The most recent crime statistics showed an increase in the murder rate, which policing experts describe as a most reliable indicator as murder is most likely to be reported and recorded.

This drop in arrests effectively means a return almost to levels of two years ago, when there were 14 741 murder arrests.

However, a positive factor in the report is that, while detection rates for many crimes may be down, those dockets which make it to court have led to slight increases in the conviction rates.

The police in all provinces missed their respective reaction time targets for all crime types, with the exception of North West, which for less serious crimes responded one minute 12 seconds better than their target.

Reaction times to serious crimes in progress, codenamed alpha crimes; serious crimes already over, or bravo crimes; and charlie complaints – those offences classified as less serious including drunkenness, loitering and trespassing – are of concern.

For alpha crimes, the national average reaction target was set 19 seconds slower than was achieved in 2012/13, when it took on average 18 minutes and 46 seconds to get to serious crimes in progress.

Yet the 2013/14 target was set at 19 minutes and five seconds – and with a national average of 19 minutes and two seconds, the report ticks the box as “target achieved”.

A similar trend emerges in the national average bravo crime reaction times, while missing the charlie crime response time would be addressed by increased monitoring, analysis and interventions.

Gauteng police missed their provincial and national targets by 20 seconds for alpha crimes. KwaZulu-Natal police fell short of the national target by one minute 43 seconds, but almost five minutes short of their provincial target of 15 minutes 51 seconds.

Mark Shaw, the National Research Foundation professor of security and justice at the University of Cape Town’s criminology centre, said such performance statistics did not give any sense about local and regional differences in police response times and the impact on fighting crime.

Also of concern was the declining number of arrests and numbers of crime prevention operations and the possible link between those.

Institute for Security Studies crime and justice programme head, Gareth Newham, echoed that high-level national figures did not reflect local realities, and this could undermine public trust.

With a “very closed top management” in place in the police, he added, this engendered a culture of secrecy. Yet there could be valid explanations for the drop in crime prevention operations, like fewer police officers being available, and the phenomenon that it was taking longer to respond to crimes.

“There might be a reason like the number of vehicles out of action,” Newham said, adding that the parliamentary police committee should take this up.

Despite various attempts to obtain comment from the SAPS via e-mail, SMS and voicemail, no response was received.

The annual report provides one of few glimpses into the police crime fighting performance, alongside the crime statistics, even if by the time either of these documents are released the information is six to 18 months old.

The report breaks down information to at best provincial level, although the crime statistics go down to police station level. In contrast, the New York Police Department and the London Metropolitan Police provide crime statistics on their websites per police precinct and ward and as up-to-date as the past week or month.

The 2013/14 SAPS annual report shows 22 009 crime prevention operations were staged. compared with 34 428 the previous year.

It is not clear how the SAPS reconciles this number of overall crime prevention numbers with those of specific actions like roadblocks and cordon-and-search operations.

An overview of detailed policing actions shows consistent declines, except for visits to shopping centres, spaza shops, farms and ATMs, which have increased. Thus in 2013/14 police visited shopping centres 3 373 935 times, against 1 146 745 in the previous financial year, and marginally upped visits to spaza shops and ATMs.

However, the number of roadblocks dropped to 39 035 from 46 079 in 2012/13 and 54 748 in 2011/12, with similar declines noted for vehicle and premises searches and cordon-and-search operations. These dropped to 9 138 in 2013/14 from 16 088 in 2012/13 and 25 835 in 2011/12.

Also down are “protection actions”, although 97 090 of these were conducted at 42 “installations/government buildings” and 90 identified VIP residences with six security breaches.

But presidential protection shifts were up, and there were protection actions at 15 residences and three offices, whose location remains undisclosed. During 2013/14, 13 140 such shifts were conducted without security breaches, compared with 8 748 a year earlier.

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Officers assisting the UN

The SAPS sent 77 officers to participate in at least two UN missions – in Darfur and Sudan – while back home the Special Task Force tackled “130 operations to stabilise acts of terror”, according to the 2013/14 police annual report.

The force also tackled 32 hostage situations, and in 58 instances provided “VIP assistance” as part of its 226 operations recorded for that financial year.

The National Intervention Unit, which provides a rapid response to “high-risk incidents where conventional policing has been compromised”, dealt with 2 306 incidents.

These included 348 instances of escorting dangerous criminals, 652 instances of protecting VIPs and big events, and 675 interventions related to serious and violent crimes.

The country’s 44 Tactical Response Team units, or amabherete – established in April 2010 to respond to high-risk threats like cash-in-transit heists, ATM bombings, taxi violence and farm attacks – was at 654 protests, which in police lingo are described as “crowd-management incidents”; escorted 1 388 dangerous prisoners; and provided protection to 1 296 items of cargo, which remained unspecified in the annual report.

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Abuse of 10111 calls rife

South Africans seem to think the 10111 SAPS emergency number is a general public inquiry service hotline.

Just over two-thirds of the 7 648 975 calls to 10111 were hoaxes, nuisance and abusive calls, or enquiries about personal or service-delivery matters.

Just 32.1 percent of the 10111 calls, or 2 456 187, were actually police-related.

This emerged in the SAPS 2013/14 annual report tabled recently in Parliament.

Although the overall number of 10111 calls in the 2013/14 financial year declined by almost one-and-a-half million, from 9 122 688 calls logged in the previous financial year, the percentage of police-related calls increased from 29 percent recorded in the 2012/13 financial year.

There are 22 SAPS 10111 call centres countrywide, connecting a total of 475 police stations to the police’s emergency response system.

However, there are a total of 1 137 police stations in the country – and the annual report does not say why all of them are not linked to the 10111 hotline.

Details of “service-information tools”, or efforts to communicate with the publicand its own employees, included tweets and special national campaigns.