New Police Minister Bheki Cele, in tabling his department’s budget last week, noted that police visibility must be improved as one of the primary deterrents of the perpetration of crime. I would agree. If we go back to basic criminological principles, the elements needed for the commission of a crime are: an opportunity for crime to occur, a motivated offender and the lack of a capable guardian. By tackling police visibility we can remove two of those elements – the opportunity for a crime to occur and placing capable guardians in communities to prevent crime.
But to do this will require sufficient human resources and these promises become a mere wish, because the budget and personnel plans do not talk to making this happen, they do the opposite. In the coming financial year, the proposal is to cut the number of visible police personnel by 1,044 posts from 100,877 to 99 833 in the next financial year. How can you improve police visibility if you are cutting the number of visible policing posts?
The same applies for detectives. The minister says he will capacitate the detective corps but the budget proposes cutting 402 detective posts between now and the next financial year. With extremely low conviction rates, as low as 3% for gang related murders and attempted murders in the Western Cape. For murders generally, only 17% of murders are detected in our province currently, essentially an 83% failure rate. In this context it is unconscionable to cut police detective posts.
The minister tells us that the SAPS will maintain a staff compliment of 98% during the 2018/19 financial year. This may sound good, but on further scrutiny is not much reassurance. The Western Cape is a case in point – the Fixed Establishment (the number of granted personnel posts) of the Western Cape was 22,633 in 2013 and by last year declined to 20,969 – almost 2,000 less posts in one province. He can’t pull the wool over our eyes because at station level, there are fewer police officers to serve citizens. And we know it. We feel it. We notice it.
The announcement of placing officers out of specialised units such as the Railway Police to station level, is concerning as this was found to be an ineffective way of doing things – look at what happened with the specialised units such as the Narcotics Bureau under Commissioner Selebi when he did the same. It simply didn’t work. In addition, there are not even enough police assigned to the railway police to have one officer per rail station, never mind stations like Cape Town Central Station where there is an excess of 15 platforms at a single station. Rail safety is a very serious concern and we simply cannot afford further failures. The railways are almost incapable of functioning – indeed the central line was closed for weeks because of safety concerns which were not being addressed.
The budget further proposes building police stations at Makhaza and Tafelsig in the Western Cape – which are areas in desperate need of more policing. But when people ask for more police stations, what they are actually asking for is more policing, more police personnel and better detection rates. They are not really interested in a brick and mortar building. The assumption is that a new police station means more police personnel, but that assumption is wrong. We know from the budget that the minister has tabled, that we are getting not more, but less police in the next three years. When SAPS built Lentegeur Station a few years ago, officers were taken away from Mitchells Plain police station to fill it – robbing Peter to pay Paul and personnel was spread even thinner on the ground.
Every budget cycle we hear the same thing – that the year will bring a focus on visible policing and detectives, but instead the number of police serving our country is getting less and less. Actions must speak louder than words, and the police budget as it stands, cannot fulfil the promises made. DM
Mireille Wenger is DA Western Cape Spokesperson on Community Safety