South Africa

South Africa

Parliament: SAPS performance targets missed as torture and deaths at the hands of police rise

Parliament: SAPS performance targets missed as torture and deaths at the hands of police rise
A senior police commander in the SAPS Explosives section, who chose to remain anonymous, has raised the issues of budget cuts and inconsistent training as being barriers to performing the department's essential tasks. Photo: Security Personnel at the Castle in Cape Town before being briefed by Acting Police Commissioner General Kgomotso Phahlane

The SAPS admitted failure in reaching its own performance targets due to “dereliction of duty” when its generals appeared before Parliament’s police committee. Sans acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba on Monday, the SAPS also came without the annual crime statistics – a key indicator of how the SAPS upholds its constitutional responsibilities to ensure safety and security – that traditionally are part of its annual report. And so what stands are the statistics of others: Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime survey highlights persistent lack of confidence in the police, while the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) shows increased deaths in police custody and due to police action, and torture. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The crime statistics for the 2016/17 financial year from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 must still go to Cabinet in two weeks’ time, said police committee chairperson Francois Beukman, and Police Minister Fikile Mbalula would thereafter interact with MPs on 17 October.

Crime statistics are politically prickly, particularly when communities complain about persistent shoddy or non-existing SAPS service, most recently following Friday’s killing of 11 people in Marikana informal settlement in Philippi on the Cape Flats.

“I struggle to accept that is what police can offer to the community there,” said ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane, while several other MPs recounted receiving calls for assistance in cases when a burglary victim had to drive to the local police station to plead for officers to come out or when they were simply ignored when wanting to report a crime.

But while the SAPS annual crime statistics remain outstanding – Cabinet last year decided these should be released to MPs every three months, but this has happened only twice – other statistics that go to the heart of quality policing in a constitutional democracy have emerged.

Up are deaths in police custody year-on-year, as is death as result of police action – this covers a vehicle crash, assault or shootings – and torture, according to the 2016/17 annual report of the police watchdog, Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

Deaths in police custody rose to 302, from 216 a year earlier, while deaths as a result of police action are up to 394 from 366 in the 2015/16 financial year. Reports of torture by police also increased: 173 were received in the 2016/17 financial year compared to 145 a year before. Cases of police officers discharging their firearms jumped 90% to 1,640 in the 2016/17 financial year, against 865 a year earlier. Assaults by police officers increased to 3,827 from 3,509 over the same period. And 112 cases of rape by police officials, including 35 who were on duty at the time, are under Ipid investigation.

According to the annual report’s breakdown, KwaZulu-Natal leads in the number of deaths in police custody with 74 Ipid cases, followed by Gauteng (48), Free State (47) and Eastern Cape (36). Gauteng, with 115 cases, has recorded the most incidents of death as a result of police action, followed by KwaZulu-Natal (110) and the Eastern Cape (67). The Western Cape recorded the most police assaults (911), followed by Free State (585), KwaZulu-Natal (501), Gauteng (456) and Eastern Cape (445).

“The Ipid was investigating 6,880 cases which involved SAPS members and 119 cases involving MPS (municipal police) members on various offences,” said the police watchdog.

Effectively this means one in every 27 SAPS members is under investigation. And to settle such civil damages claims the SAPS set aside R5-billion, according to its 2016/17 annual report. In that year 15,837 civil claims were instituted against the police, a slight drop from the 16,498 civil cases of the 2015/16 financial year.

The Ipid annual report and that of the SAPS were tabled in Parliament a few days after Statistics South Africa released its Victims of Crime survey last Thursday. Although crime levels have declined somewhat – 7% of South Africans experienced at least one incident of crime in the 2016/17 financial year compared to 9% the year previously – feelings of safety and security have not increased. More people are afraid at night, are not feeling safe enough to go to a park or walk in their area. “Instead, the survey reveals that declining crime trends were accompanied by deteriorating feelings of safety among households,” said Statistics South Africa.

Police officialdom may want to make a technicist argument for not tabling the 2016/17 financial year crime statistics as has been tradition – the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) does not expressly say so –but the generals in blue on Monday had to start accounting for the non-negotiable legally required statistics related to their performance.

It was not a pretty picture. Those numbers indicate that while the money is spent, self-set targets are missed. Or, as the Office of the Auditor-General pointed out: the SAPS spent its budget for administration (102%), visible policing (99%) and detectives (99%), but met only 62%, 70% and 73% of respective targets.

And curious discrepancies emerged before the police committee. On the school safety programme involving 1,210 identified schools, the SAPS said it achieved 100% of its target, just hours after the Office of the Auditor-General had told MPs it “could not get evidence of what is being done”. Ditto, the SAPS’s claim of achieving 100% of targets on illegal liquor and drugs, which the auditor-general said could not be verified: somewhere some 330,000 litres of liquor and 33.5-million kilograms of drugs disappeared.

The Office of the Auditor-General could also not find the audit evidence to support the SAPS claims with regards to its rural safety strategy. And while the SAPS claimed it had recovered 148 firearms stolen from those in other government departments, evidence could only be found for the recovery of 93. This came as the SAPS admitted it failed to reduce the number of firearms stolen from its own members, recovering 705 or 55 short of its own target of 760.

The auditor-general, according to the SAPS annual report, found “the reported achievement for target was misstated” with respect to trial-ready dockets in crimes against women – the SAPS claimed 83.85%, but evidence indicated 55.9% for this policing priority – while proof for trial-ready dockets in serious commercial crime was available for 49% instead of the 66.43% claimed by police.

And there was also the issue of the lack of pocket books, or the police notebook that is central to recording crime and testifying in court during trials. But 102 SAPS members underwent Chinese language training in the 2016/17 financial year. The purpose, according to the annual report? “Promotion of participants’ knowledge about the use of the Chinese language by promoting communication between SAPS and the Chinese community to be more effective and learning the Chinese culture.”

MPs across the political spectrum were exasperated and took a dim view, repeatedly reminding the SAPS the issues raised were overwhelmingly repeat offences. And Beukman pointed out that it is the first time in eight years that the SAPS received a qualified report.

The SAPS generals told MPs they had now drafted their own report on the audit findings, would hold a planning session with the Office of the Auditor-General and a road show to police stations across South Africa.

All of the critical audit findings contributing to the SAPS’s regression to a qualified audit opinion “could have been prevented”, said deputy national commissioner for asset and legal management, Lieutenant-General Stefanus Schutte, adding: “It’s simplistic, straightforward things.”

And interim acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Gary Kruser, the deputy national commissioner for national management interventions who stood in for Mothiba, acknowledged that only 60% of police stations were actually qualified, in a direct response to the committee.

“The critical thing is dereliction of duty, which is hard to swallow…. The only way to fix it is to keep management accountable, including us here,” said Kruser, saying crime was coming down and it was now about service delivery. “The thing we have to change is about perceptions and that happens at station level…”.

But Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime survey shows it’ll be an uphill battle. With just over half of South Africans taking their own measures to protect their homes, only half of the incidents of house-breaking and home robbery at best were officially reported, and merely 30% of thefts of personal property. The reason, according to the survey: one in six victims of crime believed the police could not or would not do anything about it. 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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