Citizens’ safety must be a priority

2011-05-21 11:27

ANC politicians hold centralisation as an article of faith.

Those responsible for our national safety policy believe that centralisation has lain dormant for too long – that the metros must be stripped of their powers to keep their own citizens safe.

They are tragically mistaken.

One of the primary questions any government must ask itself is: How do we keep our citizens safe?

There is an additional layer of complexity when local governments enter the equation.

How can safety be managed while preserving the functions between different levels of government?

Indeed, with reference to the metro police, how do we ensure we have a safety service specifically tailored to the needs of a local population against the general safety policies of the South African Police Service?

Since 1993, the ANC’s instinct has been to have one national police service.

The final Constitution of 1996 seemed to clearly state that the country would need a single police service, so every effort went into transforming that service to work for and with the people – not brutalising them.

However, the Constitution also made provision for local police services.

The SAPS Amendment Act of 1998 created the conditions in which local police services could be established to maintain consistency with the Constitution.

It was really only in the first local government elections in 2000 that metro police services became a national issue again.

Then, as now, crime was escalating in many metros so almost all parties pledged to create local police departments.

This meant that metro police services were implemented by 2001 by both the DA and the ANC.

These interventions were tolerated by the national ANC, but the situation changed in 2006 when the DA regained control of Cape Town and began prioritising metro safety.

That was a bridge too far for the ANC. And so a resolution supporting a single police service was passed by the ANC at its Polokwane conference in 2007.

But our Constitution protects the right of local governments to provide police services.

It is made especially true when the SAPS refuses to divulge locally specific crime data without a fight.

This is the reason Joburg established its metro police in consultation with the experience of foreign governments.

Joburg is notoriously riddled with crime and it was felt by the ANC metro government in 2001 that more police services were needed to complement the SAPS.

To date, the ANC metro government has continued to expand the operational programme of its metro police.

The philosophy of a community-based approach to crime fighting was adopted by Cape Town in 2006.

Since then, the city has specialised its metro police service and has deployed several very successful intelligence-driven specialised units, including the Ghost Squad, Copperheads, Vice Squad and the Drug Busters.

They have all had great success, but this innovation was only possible at local level.

Nationally, the SAPS was forced by the ANC to disband all specialised units. We must question the logic behind the national ANC government’s centralising impulse.

Safety is a key deliverable for citizens. We owe it to our citizens to keep them safe.

» De Lille is the DA mayoral candidate for Cape Town 

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