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Partners in Crime

15 April 2013, 14:00

Today the City of Cape Town announced that she will pay for tip-offs that lead to arrests related to gangsterism and drugs.

A key argument for the payment of informants is that it gives the police access to the worst of the Cape Flat’s gangsters, the people they can not ordinarily access.  Fear prevents the ordinary citizens from testifying against the people they know are responsible for the most heinous crimes against their very own families and within their immediate communities.

What then drives an informant to risk his life informing on the gangs?  When dealing with criminals the reasons are complex; whilst financial gain will be a clear incentive, career criminals will see informing as a means of obtaining police protection, of personal revenge and more prominently for putting rival gangs out of business.  In the worst cases informants are able to manipulate corrupt or poorly trained police handlers into breaking the law themselves.

So how does this benefit the tax payer?  The Police Service would argue that it is impossible to secure convictions against crimes deemed ‘victimless’ such as gangsterism and drug trafficking without using an ‘inside man’.  However, informants have neither reliability nor credibility within the legal system.  Often their witness, though leading to a conviction is not admissible in court.  

The final argument will come down to police resources.  Should the tax payers money be used to fund crime or to prevent it?  The proceeds of payments made to informants will undoubtedly be used to fund further crime.  At a time when the South African Police Service is under global scrutiny for their conduct shouldn’t this money be spent more strategically on improving management methods.  As the Institute for Security Studies (2011) states;  “the extent of corruption is directly related to organizational and managerial shortcomings.”

The Police Service will argue that the ends justifies the means, but does it really?

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