No excuses for escapes, cops told

2012-10-18 20:57
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Cape Town - Police management should stop making excuses and take responsibility for the high number of escapes from custody, MPs said on Thursday.

Deputy national commissioner Fanie Masemola told Parliament's portfolio committee on police the number of escapes from police custody had jumped from 478 during the 2010/11 financial year to 810 by the end of March this year.

The police had in effect failed to meet their target of cutting escapes by 50%.

Masemola told MPs several steps were being taken to improve the situation, including the quarterly identification of police stations where escape rates were high.

He said the escapes were broken down as follows:

- 163 from correctional services holding cells;

- 128 from police holding cells;

- 81 from hospitals;

- 74 from courtrooms;

- 69 from court holding cells;

- 51 from police vehicles;

- 78 through wrongful release from courts and police stations;

- 51 while in transit;

- 29 in loading zones at police stations;

- 63 during further investigations; and

- 23 in loading zones at courts.

Masemola said non-compliance with standing orders issued by police management was being tackled.

Head office staff had visited just over 51 police stations and 323 disciplinary cases had been opened against officers who had not complied with procedures.

"Of these, 175 of the members were found guilty and 21 dismissed," Masemola said.

Infrastructure problems were also being addressed.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega came to the defence of officers, and said escapes from police custody represented less than 0.1 percent of all escapes.

MPs said their own visits to stations had indicated serious control problems.

"We're not talking about infrastructure challenges. I'm talking about the basics like cell inspections, which do not take place, and contraband in cells which are to such an extent you won't believe," said committee chairperson Annelize van Wyk.

She said often officers in charge of cells could not tell how many detainees were locked up, or how many were due in court.

"We were at Pretoria central police station and there were 15 people they couldn't account for. Ironically, it was the same day a person on crutches escaped from court... the same person that escaped I don't know how many times before," Van Wyk said.

She was referring to serial escapee and one of South Africa's most wanted criminals Bongani Moyo, who was re-arrested shortly after walking out of the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on crutches last year.

Van Wyk said officers often did not confiscate belts and shoelaces, which could be used by inmates to hurt themselves, police officers, or other prisoners.

"I'm not surprised [at the number of escapes] and you should take responsibility. End of story."

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