SAPS’ crime-solving ability, police stations falling apart under current leadership

Unless there’s an organisational overhaul right from the top of the organisation, combined with the re-skilling and resourcing of SA Police Service (SAPS) officers, crime will simply continue to escalate.

The mass exodus of detectives, vital in investigating complex and violent crimes, is a blow to the SAPS’s crime-solving ability that is already marred by high caseloads, lack of resources, and a backlog in investigations.

Gareth Newham, head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says the SAPS’s detective rate – the ability to resolve serious crimes such as murders – has been dropping in the last 10 years, and by 2021, only 30 murder cases out 100 were resolved.

“There is no clear strategy to build intelligence and detective capacity, and this will only get worse because of lack of proper leadership at the top.

“The ministry hasn’t implemented practical solutions detailed in the NDP [National Development Plan] to build a better SAPS, top managers do not trust each other and do as they wish, with no one held accountable,” Newham said.

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In a written response to Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Andrew Whitfield last month, Police Minister Bheki Cele detailed the sad state of affairs in his department.

The data showed that there has been a decrease in the number of detectives since 2019, a year after Cele was brought back by President Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the ministry again. The SAPS has 1 300 fewer detectives to tackle criminal cases.

Furthermore, 20% of state vehicles allocated to detectives were not operational as of 22 May 2022. At least 35% of the public order police (POP) fleet, such as Nyalas, were not operational nationally, while more than 50% of the POP fleet in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Free State, and Limpopo were not operational.

‘Leadership crisis’

The problems plaguing the country’s police, said Newham, cannot be resolved by throwing more money at it, but requires a clear policing strategy.

Among the many proposals outlined in the NDP, is the establishment of a national policing board. The board would set standards for recruiting, selecting, appointing and promotion of officers and management. It would also be tasked with developing a code of ethics and analyse the professional standing of policing, based on international norms and standards.

“SAPS need a clear strategy, such as putting murders as priority. We don’t have proper leadership at the top – criminal intelligence has a R4 billion budget with 8 000 officers, but no one knows what they actually do.”

He added that most generals were hired for political reasons and lacked proper qualifications or experience.

“A quarter of them do not have proper qualifications or experience and are not adding any value. They are marred by allegations of misconduct abound. SAPS has a top management problem.

“They don’t trust each other, it’s a serious leadership crisis. The police budget has increased by 65% over 8 years from 2012, but all indicators show a [performance] decline. We need capable management with a clearer plan of organisational renewal and holding people accountable, or else the rate of murder will keep going up and getting worse as we see it today.”

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‘Police stations are falling apart’

The National Freedom Party (NFP) has called on Cele and his deputy Cassel Mathale to resign.

NFP spokesman Canaan Mdletshe said the lack of proper crime intelligence services and inability to curb crimes, such as organised crime was “concerning and treasonous.”

“Bheki Cele must vacate office because his inability to provide leadership has cost South Africa an irreparable damage in the eyes of the international community.

“When conducting visits to some police stations, one would be shocked at the dismal state they are in. They are falling apart. Telephone lines are not working and vehicles have broken down. It’s a disgrace and a national disaster,” he said.

Whitfield agreed, and said the SAPS is bearing the brunt of Cele’s “political interference” and the infighting with the former police commissioner Kehla Sitole.

“For years, the SAPS has been understaffed, under-resourced, and under-trained. With 1300 less detectives across the country since 2019, it means increased caseloads for overworked detectives who are the most powerful weapon in the fight against crime.

“The DA will be taking the fight for additional resources for SAPS’ detective services to the portfolio committee on police so that we can improve the critical police work that will put the criminals behind bars.”

In an emailed reply to questions, police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe said the SAPS, just like any other organisation, was not immune to losing members such as detectives.

“It is with this in mind that there are currently around 10 000 trainees at various SAPS academies across the country to compensate for two years of no training due to the Covid pandemic.

“On completion of the training programme, the 10 000 constables will be deployed to operational environments to bolster capacity,” she said.

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