No clear plan to ease burden on detectives

The police say that Operation Lockdown has reduced murder rates and violent crimes. Photo by Mzi Velapi

There is no clear plan to beef up detective services that were already overburdened before the deployment of the army.

Despite the many arrests made in the course of Operation Lockdown that involves members of the South African National Defence Force, it is not clear how the police ministry is dealing with the challenges of work overload and the limitations of detective services in the province.

According to a statement released by the Western Cape police, the operation has succeeded in reducing the number of murders and violent crimes. “With 13 weeks since the inception of Operation Lockdown, a lot of ground has been covered and murders in the Cape Town metropole are showing a decline,” said police spokesperson, Brigadier Novela Potelwa.

According to the recent crime statistics, most crime happens over the weekends and illegal shebeens have been targeted in the operation. “Figures aside, the absence of serious violent crime incidents, particularly on weekends when crime often peaks, on it’s own is an indication that the impact of the operational intervention is beginning to yield results,” said Potelwa.

Potelwa said that a total of 889 arrests for an array of crimes including murder, attempted murder, assault and robbery were executed in the past two weeks. Of the figure, 337 were of wanted suspects. “The figures that were released are for the Operation Lockdown-identified station precincts only,” she said. Members of the SANDF were deployed in July following months of unrelenting gang warfare on the Cape Flats. Police Minister Bheki Cele announced in his budget speech at the time that the army would be deployed in the ten police precincts with the highest murder rates. These are: Bishop Lavis, Mitchells Plain, Delft, Elsies River, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, Philippi, Kraaifontein and Manenberg.

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“Combined, the ten stations contributed to 42% of attempted murders in the province,” Cele said.

Six days after the army was deployed, the provincial Department of Community Safety released a report about the dire situation of detective services in the province. The report revealed that police detectives lack training, are under-resourced and that intelligence gathering by the South African Police Services is poor.

Asked about the impact of the high number of arrests being made as a result of Operation Lockdown on the workload of detectives, the Western Cape police spokesperson said that the detectives are part of the operation and are coping with the number of cases. “Operation Lockdown is a multi-disciplinary deployment where the various SAPS units function together to achieve a mutual goal. Detectives are part and parcel of our deployments to deal with additional cases that are registered,” she said.

According to a report from the office of the Community Safety MEC, Albert Fritz, there are 584 detective vacancies in the province and that 48% of current detectives have a caseload of over 200 dockets each.

Policing expert from the Institute for Security Studies, Johan Burger, said that while detectives are completely overburdened, they do not have to pursue wanted suspects, which is what regular police officers do. “The cases of wanted suspects and those with outstanding warrants are not a problem for detectives but those who still need further investigation are just adding to the workload,” Burger said.

According to Burger, who was among the policing experts that took part in a detective dialogue in Parliament in 2012, said that he is not sure whether the recommendations that were made by the Portfolio Committee on Police were adopted. A skills audit to identify training needs was recommended, secondly, that high calibre of detectives be recruited to the police and thirdly, that the proper protection of a crime scene be essential to and form an integral part of the SAPS curriculum.

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“I’m not sure if these were implemented but going forward I think there has to be a strong collaboration between the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Department of Correctional Services to work together as part of the operation,” said Burger.

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