THE DA has called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to address the shortage of detective divisions in the SAPS.
This was after national police commissioner General Fanie Masemola revealed that the SAPS has lost 8 400 detectives since 2016.
Masemola made this revelation during the question-and-answer session to the police portfolio committee in Parliament last week.
He said the number has gone down to 17 000 from 26 000.
However, the DA’s shadow minister of police, Andrew Whitfield, said Cele urgently needs to address the revelation.
He said the loss of thousands of skilled detectives is compounded by the fact that those left in the detective service also have a shortage of vehicles. Whitfield said the DA previously exposed that up to 26% of detective vehicles were either broken or inoperable in certain provinces.
He said the party also found that the Detective Service Programme, where the SAPS had spent 99.8% of its budget, only achieved 43% of its targets.
Whitfield further said that it was even worse that key departments such as the Criminal Records Centre and the Forensics Science Laboratories did not achieve any of their targets.
“The deviation of the target really underscores the crisis with Detective Services, where it was even stated that there is an under-capacitation of units in organised crime together with the fact that the development of those members in the organised crime environment was inadequate.
“SAPS detectives are highly skilled police officers who are critical to ensuring quality investigations which lead to successful prosecutions. Sadly, numerous oversight visits have revealed that detectives are overworked and underpaid, with a case load of many hundreds of dockets per detective, making it impossible for any realistic chance for some victims to find justice,” Whitfield said.
He said he also challenged President Cyril Ramaphosa to recruit specialist skills into the SAPS during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) debate in 2022.
Whitfield said although the call has been heeded through a re-enlistment strategy, Masemola said this has only yielded the re-enlistment of 68 detectives, which is less than 1% of the total number the SAPS has lost.
“Low morale, skills, and experience attrition, together with the high vacancy rate, leads to poor quality investigations, which, in turn, result in low conviction rates. Detectives are an essential cog in the wheels of justice and this crisis needs to be addressed urgently by Minister Cele,” Whitfield said.
Asked for a comment, Cele’s spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said she would comment if she “has something for you”.
South Africa is in the grips of its most violent war on crime, with some of the worst crime statistics on record.
According to the crime stats in 2021/2022, 25 181 people were killed and 41 739 people were raped. Police also recorded 238 cases of cash-in-transit robberies, while 20 923 cars were hijacked and robberies at residential premises increased to 21 832.
Last year, the portfolio committee revealed that the Detective Services managed to finalise only 18.4% (10 472) of 56 653 case dockets for contact crimes older than three years.
The committee members pointed out that this means 46 000 criminal cases older than three years have not been resolved.
The shortage of detectives means that the number of case dockets is increasing.
According to the statistics, the country has lost one detective per day over the past three years, and the committee expressed their hope that the SAPS would identify solutions to recruit and remunerate detectives to an adequate standard and keep them in service.
Anti-crime activist Ian Cameron said poor training has also added to the shortage of detectives. He said there was a need to train the juniors under the supervision of senior detectives to be able to deal with the problem.
“I think we got Bheki Cele disease, talking confidently about having boots on the ground and the need for more officers. There is no use in having these uniform members when we don’t have specialised detective capacity.
“We need a specialised unit and specialised detective capacity and not just station capacity,” he said.
Another anti-crime activist, Yusuf Abramjee, said the shortage of detectives is nothing new. He said they have been hopelessly underpaid while they are overworked.
“Some detectives even carry dockets running into 300 to 400 at a time, which tells you that they don’t have the capacity to investigate.
“This is why criminals are getting away with it. A lot of cases are unresolved, especially serious crimes such as murder and robberies,” he said.
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) head of justice and violence prevention Gareth Newham said the detective division has long been neglected and has remained outdated.
He said this is because the SAPS thought public safety would be improved by large numbers of police officers and the visibility of operations but the approach is not working.
Newham said there was a need to increase the detective unit.