SA is still stuck in an investigative paradigm where cops wait for crime to happen so they can investigate instead of adopting predictive policing paradigm, says the writer. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
SA is still stuck in an investigative paradigm where cops wait for crime to happen so they can investigate instead of adopting predictive policing paradigm, says the writer. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Why did police fail to predict there would be unrest after Zuma’s jailing?

By Dr Mabila Mathebula Time of article published Jul 20, 2021

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AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MINISTER OF POLICE MR BHEKI CELE

The importance of the matter to which I beg to draw your attention will be an excuse for my troubling you. I apologise for writing you a letter which you probably regard as impertinent, but I hope that you will understand why I have decided to put pen to paper.

Minister, have you ever imagined a situation where a person is arrested before committing a crime? I thought it politic to direct this letter to you because I have realised that the current policing strategies and tactics have been overtaken by events.

Let me remind you that during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in 2020, the Honourable President Cyril Ramaphosa announced to the nation that plans were afoot to build a police investigative university at Hammanskraal in the City of Tshwane.

After that announcement by the President, I mused: “The planned university is very important in my view, and those who will go through it will be important too. The university will enable the SAPS to embrace the predictable policing concept as its guiding star. I hope that the proposed investigative university will not be churning out ‘half-baked’ graduates who will be irrelevant and inimical to crime and corruption in South Africa.”

Minister Cele, it is axiomatic that our society is crime prone where looting and the destruction of property happens on a whim. Minister, we seriously need to employ scientific methods to redeem this country from the crime abyss. This brings me to my bone like attitude to science during my school years.

When I was at the boarding school, I was subjected to a horrendous prefect system that was highly militarised. To me, debating was something purgatorial. I was forcefully drafted into a debate session at an injunction of a prefect who was pathologically obsessed with order.

The recycled topic that bored me to tears was entitled: “Is the advance of science a boon or a curse to mankind?” My performance on that day was dismal because I failed to extol the charms of girls who were in the audience, and my knowledge of English was scratchy, let alone my feeble confidence by then.

Our debating team lost lamentably because we ignorantly argued that science was not a blessing but something that doomed and gloomed human progress. I appreciate the truth in saying that our men and women in blue are groping in the dark like our hopeless debating team.

It is notable that our current policing approach is very reactive where planning takes place through the rear-view mirror. As a society, we need a proactive policing approach, where we can design the future and make it happen.

Minister, it will not help this nation if the police service embraces the classical economic notion that opines that human behaviour is not always predictable. Little did these economists realise that science could, in future, be bolstered with a prophetic foresight to predict human behaviour, including crime.

Predictive policing is no longer confined to science and fiction thrillers. Predictive policing methods are being adopted across the United States to allow law enforcement to proactively manage crime. Predictive policing is defined as, “the application of analytical techniques, particularly quantitative techniques, to identify promising targets for police intervention and prevent or solve crime.”

The question that keeps flooding back at the back of South African’s minds when they read about crime is: Why did the enforcement agencies fail to anticipate damage to property and wild cat looting after the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma? I answer: South Africa has not yet moved to a predictive policing paradigm, as a country.

We are still stuck in an investigative paradigm. We wait for crime to happen so that we can investigate the crime. This approach will take this country nowhere. Gone are the days where you employed unqualified people into the police service and expect them to operate in a leadership mode to combat crime.

Our current approach to crime is indisputably single-looped. Xolela Mangcu argues that single loop solutions are the equivalent of surface-level explanations, while double-loop thinking goes to the underlying solutions. Ministers, are you aware that one could study crime by using the mathematical tools that scientists use to study earthquakes?

Dr Jeff Brantingham, professor of anthropology at the University of California, argues that the perception that crime is random, is inaccurate. “The truth is there’s actually a lot of patterning and structure to crime. Even though it seems like a random event from the point of view of that one victim, there is a lot of regularity to it.”

May I impress upon you that one could use an algorithm to predict two and half times more crime than the current existing practices.

The words of W.E.B. du Bois, which he uttered in 1903, are worth recalling: “…Now the training of (human beings) is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers.” Truth be told, as never before, the South African police service needs technical education to deal with crimes, such as vandalism and hooliganism.

This brings me to the quality of our policing education by the new university. It would take education to produce prediction maps for each police officer to tackle crimes such as corruption and the vandalism of infrastructure.

Minister, I urge you not to gravitate towards what I call “Policing Myopia.” By policing myopia, I refer to a near-sighted view of policing in terms of providing a pathetic police service rather than a broader view in terms of societal needs to be served. I hope that my request will be given greater scope.

*Mabila Mathebula has a PhD in Construction Management.

**The views expressed here are not those of The Star or IOL.

The Star

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