Inside the Khayelitsha SAPS charge office. File picture: Obed Zilwa

Cape Town - The detective unit at Khayelitsha police station was a dumping ground for incapable officers, a senior police officer said in Cape Town on Wednesday.

“When I came to Khayelitsha (in 2011), what I can say is I found a unit in disarray,” the station's head of detectives Colonel Johan Marais told the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into alleged police inefficiency in the area.

“I found demotivated people, people with too many dockets. I found a dysfunctional crime office and a myriad of other problems.”

Marais said he was put in charge of people who should never have been detectives, who had long absentee records, and some who were so sick they were only capable of manning the telephone.

He said it took a while to get the unit in order because labour laws had to be followed.

Before his time in Khayelitsha, Marais founded an organised crime intelligence unit in the province in 1991 and received training from Scotland Yard and the FBI, among other organisations.

He told the inquiry he re-structured the detective unit into smaller pockets, with five officers each focusing on murders, robberies, and tracing outstanding suspects.

Two officers each were assigned to cases involving government officials, and reckless or negligent driving. One officer focused on fraud. The remainder of the unit focused on other cases.

“If we can specialise more in a serious investigation, we might get more and better results,” he said in defence of his strategy.

He was asked how he tackled demotivated officers.

“I got them together and we braaied (barbequed). At a braai the truth comes out.”

Marais said he did not know if it was the meat or the “juice” they drank, but officers were relaxed and told him about their problems and aspirations.

He held interviews with his team after the braai and asked them to motivate why they did not want to be detectives anymore or work in a certain environment.

“It was a process. It's not a thing you could do one day and then around the world the next day,” he said.

The commission heard Marais had initially been in charge of 68 officers, but the number had since dropped to 58.

Seven officers had been nominated to special task teams or investigation groups, he said.

“Unfortunately, I don't know why but they always look to Khayelitsha. I've been fighting with them every time because they take my people.

“I was not consulted. I would never have agreed to let them go.”

He was asked if receiving more detectives would improve the unit's performance.

“Even if we double the staff complement, it's not going to be enough. We unfortunately work with backlogs,” he replied.

When officers left the unit dockets were re-assigned to their colleagues.

Marais said because officers were not familiar with these cases the dockets often shifted to the bottom of the pile.

“If I get to that docket there could be such a lot of problems that I just open and close it.”

The inquiry - headed by retired Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan, and advocate Vusi Pikoli - was set up by Western Cape premier Helen Zille after residents lodged complaints about police inefficiency, which was the apparent cause of a spate of mob justice killings in the area.