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We don’t need more police — we need professional officers who are better trained, motivated and managed

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Themba Masuku is a Programme Manager at the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum. He was a member of the Panel of Experts on Public Order Policing in 2017-2018 which was chaired by the late Judge Ntshangase. He holds a Master’s Degree in Social Science from KwaZulu-Natal and a Master’s Degree in Law with specialisation in Human Rights. He has several publications on policing, which can be accessed online.

The South African Police Service is on a mass recruitment drive. But concerns about mass recruitment have been raised in the past which are still relevant. Among the criticisms raised previously was that mass recruitment resulted in large numbers of police on the streets who were poorly trained, managed and supported.

Following the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma in July 2021, those sympathetic to him took to the streets for eight days in what became known as the “July insurrection”. The capacity of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and other security agencies were severely exposed as lives were lost and property destroyed. The country’s security agencies were caught unaware, and their capacity was allegedly also undermined from within.

The problems in the SAPS which impact its capacity to respond to incidents like this is a concern. To address the lack of capacity, Deputy Minister of Police Cassel Mathale indicated SAPS’ plans to go on a massive recruitment drive in 2022 as part of the move to bolster the organisation. He justified the mass recruitment through the fact that SAPS had experienced a net loss of about 8,000 members and that in the 2020/2021 financial year, there was no intake of new recruits due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the face of it, this initiative sounds sensible and justifiable. Recruitment is necessary to any organisation and particularly in building civilian police capacity in the face of a net loss of its personnel. However, concerns about mass recruitment have been raised in the past which appear relevant even now. Among the criticisms raised previously was that mass recruitment resulted in large numbers of police on the streets who were poorly trained, managed and supported. Experts argued that “throwing more money and people at the police is not the solution. We don’t need more people in police uniforms — we need professional police officers who are better trained, motivated and managed”. Also, it was argued that “mass police recruitment put pressure on the systems of recruitment, selection, training, supervision, discipline, and performance management. It is the malfunction of these systems that has a causal relationship in driving the increase in police misconduct, brutality, and corruption.”

The SAPS appears to have made some efforts to acknowledge the concerns raised. In 2019, SAPS presented its new recruitment and training strategy for new recruits to the Portfolio Committee on Police in the National Assembly. According to SAPS, it is aimed at improving the recruitment of high potential candidates and providing them with the necessary training and support. Some of the key features of the recruitment strategy include:

  • The recruitment of quality candidates, by focusing on quality rather than quantity, and standardising the recruitment and selection methods to produce an ethical service and reducing corruption;
  • An integrated approach to the recruitment process including consultations with other relevant stakeholders;
  • Increasing the recruitment of minority groups (white, coloured, Indian, female in general);
  • Strengthening the security screening process associated with recruitment;
  • A selection process that includes psychometric assessment, integrity testing, physical assessment, and fingerprint taking. This process is followed by interviews and reference taking of new recruits; and
  • The final step in the selection process is the submission of names of new recruits to the Recruitment Board to make the final decision. New recruits are further subjected to medical testing, security screening and verification of qualifications before they are enlisted as new recruits in the SAPS.

What is missing, and is quickly becoming the proverbial elephant in the room, is the National Police Board which was proposed in the National Development Plan 2030. A National Police Board includes some and more of the functions in the SAPS recruitment strategy such as:

  • Determining minimum standards for recruitment, selection and appointment of members of the SAPS and Municipal Police Services (MPS) and monitoring of the implementation thereof;
  • Determining the minimum standards for promotion of members of the SAPS and MPS and monitoring the implementation thereof;
  • Conducting appropriate competency testing of all SAPS and MPS personnel;
  • Evaluating and benchmarking all existing training programmes for the SAPS and MPS against international standards, assessing their relevance to the South African situation, and determining whether the content of such programmes adhere to the Constitution; and
  • Set minimum standards, criteria and competency requirements for all training programmes within the SAPS and MPS and for all trainers. This process should cover basic service training, the training of detectives, specialised training and ongoing training and must include the required competency level for a pass.

Importantly, however, the National Police Board will also comprise of non-SAPS members and experts, thereby insulating the process from some of the challenges of nepotism alluded to back as far back as 2013, when the then Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu argued that the recruitment of quality police students was “not entirely honest and credible because it was besieged with favouritism, nepotism, allegiance and prejudice”.

SAPS’ new recruitment and training strategy will be severely tested. Bringing 10,000 new recruits into an organisation needs to be well thought through. It is, after all, the public that will be impacted directly. A National Police Board independent from the institutional and leadership challenges in the SAPS is essential to this process and the concept has been recently reviewed and supported and reaffirmed by none other than the Panel of Experts on Marikana as part of fundamental reforms required in the SAPS. DM

Themba Masuku is a Programme Manager at the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF). He was a member of the Panel of Experts on Public Order Policing in 2017-2018 which was chaired by the late Judge Ntshangase. He holds a Master’s Degree in Social Science from KwaZulu-Natal and a Master’s Degree in Law (LLM) from the University of South Africa.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Without bothering to read your opinion…just reading the headline. A headline shared by some 60 million citizens. So how exactly is that going to happen?

  • jcdville stormers says:

    If it will happen is another story but having said that I agree 100% with you.Unfortunately those that become commissioned officers are not strictly evaluated.When working with security related matters discipline is of the utmost importance.It starts with training ,no putting people through if they don’t make it.Detectives are the biggest problem ,besides they not getting overtime.The way their success rate is set out, even closing a docket off is regarded as a success.Correct and quality statement taking is another important issue.Courses for detectives.Your commander must be so in charge with his team that members are scared to make mistakes, be lax ,etc.Most important is a ethos of honesty above all, understanding the calling of SERVING all citizens and others professionally without fear or favor.Till we unite as a zero tolerance for corruption goverment things will never be positive.Also PEP (performance enhancement program ) is a joke.Who puts himself in a bad light?Appraisal must come from above.The police is getting more forms evaluating things that they don’t have time to fight crime,they are also drowning themselves in meetings.Training how to testify is another gap not covered by police, sometimes it’s easier to catch the criminal than to get him guilty because the standard of statement writing and testifying is below par.

  • Ron Ron says:

    Thanks for a well thought through and motivated article. The definition of any ill disciplined armed force is ” a rabble” and sadly ill discipline is nothing new in the ranks of the SAPS. There are some excellent officers but the malaise is most easily seen at the top and the best officers who are not supported by their superiors (or, worse, shut down by their superiors) cannot save the situation and will inevitably become disillusioned. The Board sounds like a solution – but is anyone listening?

  • John Cartwright says:

    Our police training and culture is reactive and trapped in violence, and this misguided and ineffectual approach is reinforced by politicians exploiting people’s understandable fears. SAPS seems to be a lost cause for now. Municipal law enforcement may provide opportunities for a more thoughtful and locally focused problem-solving approach.

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