Specialist skills-deprived SAPS lumbers on to tick the boxes of performance targets amid downbeat perceptions
SAPS skills shortages run so deep that none of its specialist divisions – from forensics to the flying squad, 10111 call centres and detectives – are fully staffed, according to a parliamentary reply. But in the SAPS 2022/23 annual report, there’s little evidence of this.
The elite Hawks unit, officially the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation, has only 18.2% of the ideal complement of serious corruption investigators, 27% for commercial crime probes and 44.7% of the required organised crime investigators, according to a parliamentary reply from Police Minister Bheki Cele.
It’s not looking much better elsewhere on the policing skills front.
The K9 dog unit is understaffed at 30.8%, the water wing – effectively, divers – stands at 1.1% of the ideal complement and the air wing at 50%.
The flying squad has only 32.6% of police officers, the anti-gang unit just 42.4% and the 10111 centres operate with just 40.5% of the ideal staff requirement as of 31 August 2023.
While the SAPS criminal record centre is staffed at 83.8%, its forensics skills fall well short – ballistics has just 18.3% of what is called the “ideal requirement”, questioned documents at 25.6%, and the Forensic Science Laboratory operates at 19.1%.
The ministerial response to the DA parliamentary question crystallises policing shortfalls – the staffing percentages are so low that even if not measured against “ideal requirements”, it impacts on policing capacity.
Yet the 2022/23 annual report is largely silent on the skills deficit, even if its impact emerges.
Detective services – overall at 40.4% of the ideal staff complement, according to Cele’s parliamentary reply – has an organised crime unit at 30%, commercial crime at 13.8% and cybercrime at 14.9% of ideal staff levels.
What the parliamentary reply calls the “murder and robbery unit”, has just 6.1% of the detectives it should ideally have.
It should not be surprising that the 2022/23 SAPS annual report shows detective services are the worst performers at 43.33% of its set targets.
Effectively, just over one in 10 murders was solved by detectives as the 2022/23 annual report shows the murder detection rate dropped by some two percentage points to 12.48%.
Reducing contact crime, including murder and assaults, recorded a detection rate of 46.28% – short of the 50% detection rate the SAPS set as its goal.
“High ratio of case dockets per detective as a result of employee turnover is not conducive to effective investigation,” says the report.
The 36,880-strong SAPS detective service is roughly the same size as the administration staff (31,880) and has the same approximately R20-billion allocation.
On the organised crime front, specifically the target of reducing organised criminal groups and gangs by 70%, detectives’ achieved performance is a mile off at 20.41%, or 10 of 49 identified groupings, although 50 arrests were made.
“Under-capacitation of units… Inadequate development of members in the organised crime environment,” explains the report, effectively acknowledging the lack of staff and training.
It is this – alongside the Hawks’ inadequate staffing and low rate of organised and financial crime investigations – that led to South Africa’s greylisting – not NGOs.
The global anti-terror funding and money laundering Financial Action Task Force, in its October 2021 country assessment, highlighted the shortfall of 3,000 Hawks forensic and auditing investigators.
According to Cele’s parliamentary reply to the DA, the family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit, at 68.2%, is the best-staffed detective unit, reflecting the state’s anti-gender-based violence stance.
Detective teams dealing with taxi violence (56.3%) and stock theft (54.3%) follow.
The SAPS is re-recruiting 400 ex-police officers, who left in good standing, to capacitate the detective service, according to national commissioner Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola’s 2022/23 annual report foreword.
The positive side
But despite staff and other shortages, police officers do their work.
The 30 Flying Squad units countrywide responded to 48,984 complaints.
The 140 police divers in 1,536 operations recovered 1,216 drowning victims but also rescued 526 people. The 109 K9 dog units countywide, with 132 dog handlers, conducted 255,379 searches to recover illegal firearms, narcotics and stolen or hijacked vehicles.
Police forensics, despite missing all performance targets, reduced the backlog not only year on year, but also within the 2022/23 financial year from 143,795 samples to 55,687. That, as 660,102 entries were added to the forensics in-tray.
The 21 SAPS 10111 emergency call centres are getting assistance from business through the government-private sector CEO cooperation under Operation Vulindlela, the joint initiative between the National Treasury and the Presidency.
The focus was “to improve the functionality of the 10111 Emergency Response Centres” by standardising the call centres and linking them to all police stations to improve centres’ staffing levels, and also their location.
In the 2022/23 financial year, 7,242,018 calls were made, or almost half of the 13,562,183 calls in the year before. No reasons for this are offered in the current annual report; it points to hoax, nuisance and abusive calls and non-police emergency calls.
But amid talk of “law and order” and “stamping the authority of the state”, a performance indicator across programmes, the SAPS battles perception in its own ranks and also society.
Just 31.6% of SAPS officials agreed police did not abuse their power, according to the Bureau for Market Research survey which the police engaged during the 2022/23 financial year.
This could help explain the R7.9-billion contingent liability set aside for claims against the SAPS from unlawful arrest and detention, assault, shootings and more. The Auditor-General has flagged this as a concern in the audited financial statements.
The SAPS also missed the 50% public satisfaction target it set for itself; a rating of 43.35% emerged from the independent survey.
This seems out of step with Cele’s upbeat foreword styling the 2022/23 annual report as “a comprehensive compilation of the notable achievements and invaluable contributions” – and showing “significant strides in upholding law and order, combating crime and enhancing community policing”.
But the SAPS skills deficit and unsatisfactory perceptions of police performance both from the rank and file and the public must be cause for concern – and should trigger re-evaluation. DM