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Parliament: SAPS’s incredibly shrinking performance s...

South Africa

South Africa

Parliament: SAPS’s incredibly shrinking performance standards

The police aim to detect just over one in three serious crimes during the 2017/18 financial year, setting their target lower than previously, according to its annual performance plan tabled in Parliament. The SAPS’ target for detecting crimes against women remains at 75%, while detection rates for crimes against children is 70%, up half a percentage point. These police performance targets emerge amid a curious mix of proclaiming its back-to-basics programme of doing “the right things right, every time” and commentary on “a growing culture of lawlessness, impunity and violence during protest actions, including disrespecting state authority”. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

When former Social Development Director-General Zane Dangor wanted to open a police case following the break-in at his home, during which one of his children was hurt, it was widely reported that police said he could not do so because nothing was taken. Subsequently, acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane undertook to investigate this police attitude, according to News24.

When a series of rapes of women taxi commuters in Soweto, Johannesburg, emerged late last week, according to eNCA reports, at least one rape survivor was taken to several police stations, all of which refused to take her complaint. And Eyewitness News quoted Gauteng Community Safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane as saying: “I must also admit that based on interviews with victims, some police officers didn’t treat them well.”

The 2015/16 Victims of Crime survey by Statistics South Africa indicates that households are increasingly aware of violent crimes and of the decreasing police visibility in their communities.

The survey shows that 41.8% of households believed violent crime in their area had increased, compared to 31.7% in 2011. Overall, households indicated that police visibility in general had declined between 2011 and 2016. Those households which never saw a uniformed police official on duty in their area increased to 19.4% in the 2015/16 financial year, up from 12.5% in 2011, while those that saw a uniformed police official in uniform at least once a day dropped from 43.5% in 2011 to 33.1% in 2015/16.

Never seeing police on duty was most common amongst households headed by black Africans,” said the 2015/16 Victims of Crime survey.

Only the Western Cape had “a significant percentage” of households, which reported that police responded in less than 30 minutes to an emergency call. North West had the worst response: more than half the households reported that it took more than two hours for police to arrive, or they never did, according to the survey.

It is against this background that the SAPS tabled its 2017/18 annual performance plan, including specific targets, in Parliament. Like the police, all national government departments and entities must submit such plans alongside their strategic plans for parliamentary oversight ahead of approving budget allocations. The pressure is on: MPs return from their recess at the start of May, and two weeks later the Budget vote debates are scheduled to start.

According to the SAPS 2017/18 annual performance plan, the police detected 38% of serious crimes in the 2016/17 financial year – the figure must still be formally audited, and is thus presented as “estimated performance” – but for the 2017/18 financial year the SAPS set the target at 37%, effectively returning to levels achieved three years ago in the 2014/15 financial year.

This trend indicates that the SAPS is maintaining course year-on-year, setting itself targets already achieved previously, rather than boosting performance goals.

Police also want to reduce the number of reported serious crimes by 3.14% to 1,704,885 in the 2017/18 financial year. This target aims to continue the trend of reducing reported serious crimes which in the 2016/17 financial year stood at an unaudited 1,760,065. In comparison, in the 2015/16 financial year 1,788,139 serious crimes were reported, down from 1,826,967 in the 2013/14 financial year.

But the 2017/18 annual performance plan does not directly talk to whether this serious crime reduction target reflects lower levels of crime, or simply people not bothering to report serious crime. The recent Victims of Crime survey notes that “there are various crimes, including sexual offences and assault that are not reported to the SAPS, primarily due to a lack of confidence in the SAPS’s ability to resolve these crimes”.

And from the criminal justice system disappear two-thirds of crimes dependent on police detection, like illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, drug-related crime and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While the estimated performance of detecting such crimes in the 2016/17 financial year is 346,852, only 143,588 reached the courts leading to convictions in 139,568, according to that performance indicator.

On the SAPS objective of addressing serious corruption involving officials’ procurement fraud, the targets for trial-ready dockets are being dropped by almost 20 percentage points against the 2015/16 financial year. Then police achieved a level of 79.85% trial-ready case dockets, or 444 of 556 cases. The unaudited target for the current financial year is set at “maintain 53%”, going up to 60% in the 2017/18 financial year that starts on April 1, 2017.

Speckled throughout the document are some intriguing targets, like 100% performance in “police incidents of a security nature which are not deemed to be ‘normal crime’”. There is no footnote to explain what such incidents might be.

But police successfully policed 11,151 “peaceful crowd management incidents”, and 3,542 “unrest crowd management incidents” in the 2015/16 financial year. For the 2016/17 financial year, the performance simply says “100%” as details drop from the documentation.

However, public order emerges as having been much considered in the annual performance plan. “The maintenance of internal stability remains a challenge for the SAPS,” according to the plan, which includes as challenges, “broad public discontent” around basic services, housing, unemployment, municipal restructuring and #FeesMustFall.

A growing culture of lawlessness, impunity and violence during protest actions, including disrespecting state authority, continues to be a threat to the continued development of the democratic dispensation in the country,” it adds.

Public order police, known as riot police, receive R242-million in the 2017/18 financial year which, according to a recent parliamentary police committee briefing, will be spent on acquiring water cannon and vehicles. “The SAPS will ensure that a dedicated capacity exists to manage public disorder and will integrate with all relevant capabilities in the public and private sectors to ensure that the president’s requirements in this regard are met.

Acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane in his foreword praises the men and women in blue policing protests for having “generally conducted themselves with professional dignity, which was unfortunately not mirrored” by some of those protesting.

Talking demilitarisation and professionalisation of the SAPS, Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko notes, “South Africa’s police service also faces the threat of infiltration by sinister elements that harbour political and criminal intents respectively. It is not surprising that a strong and popular government such as ours… should generate many enemies. The logic is that once you destabilise the police, you are on your way towards destabilising the country as well as compromise (sic) its social and economic fabric.”

Whether the police committee will sufficiently scrutinise not only the numbers and targets, but also some of these underlying law and order assumptions, remains to be seen. DM

Photo: Security Personnel at the Castle in Cape Town before being briefed by Acting Police Commissioner General Kgomotso Phahlane,Thursday, 9 February 2017.

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