organisations don’t often applaud the police, but the re-establishment of the
specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit
scrapped the FCS units in 2006 he destroyed 20 years’ worth of skills and
experience, and also flew in the face of policing trends globally.
“cannot operate in cocoons of expertise, only sharing their skills when
available and time permits.”
Instead, these specialised units were taken from
their centralised offices and despatched to local police stations “where they
are most needed ... close to the homes of the victims, easily accessible,
the restructuring was the culmination of a far more aggressive process to
dismantle specialised units in the police generally.
accordance with a parliamentary promise made last year by Police Minister Nathi
The minister gave the police a year to get their house in order, to
employ and train staff and to find space to house the units.
focus primarily on crimes against children, sexual offences committed against
adults as well as cases of domestic violence involving assault with intent to
cause grievous bodily harm or attempted murder.
The units will also include
forensic social workers able to prepare reports for court
police because they are better resourced than the general detective
investigation required specialised skills and considered those attached to
specialised units as having an undeserved sense of superiority.
them was intended to strip them of their resources and bring them down to size.
Services were not brought closer
to communities. While some areas previously not served by the FCS units did
enjoy greater access to their specialised skills, other areas lost services. And
the quality of services declined.
detectives or facilities suitable for victims. Faced with conducting interviews
in communal offices where victims could be overheard by others, some detectives
resorted to interviewing and working from the privacy of their cars. Others had
no such option because their cars were taken and pooled for general use.
waited for cars to become available. Poorer victims often lost access to
counselling services because detectives could not as readily transport them to
social workers, including when required for court assessments.
station commanders who did not always have a sense of their needs and failed to
This had a serious impact on the collection and storage of
medico-legal evidence (including DNA) in sexual assault evidence crime
new ones, detectives spent hours driving from station to station trying to get
kits. Sometimes evidence from a previous victim was simply thrown away and the
crime kits re-used.
rapists to proliferate.
Previously detectives worked across a number of stations
and were based at one centralised office, which permitted ample opportunity to
compare cases and identify rapes demonstrating a similar modus operandi.
This was made extremely difficult after officers were split up and based at
One can only guess how many women fell victim to
unnecessary delays or failure to identify serial rapists
disarray. Detectives interviewed by gender-justice body Tshwaranang on the
restructuring said they were forced to prioritise children’s matters (not
unsurprisingly, given these units’ origins in the Child Protection Unit) and had
largely to abandon adult rape survivors to the inexpert fumblings of general
Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation compared the performance of
general detectives with that of FCS detectives in rape cases.
detectives only made arrests in 33% of cases, FCS detectives made arrests in
52%. Their cases were also two-and-a-half times more likely to go to trial.
Think what these statistics mean for the quality of justice meted out to adults
in the last few years.
in a policing wilderness led to the loss of a number of very experienced,
dedicated and highly competent detectives and it will take years to regain that
relationships between NGOs, social workers, doctors and nurses, teachers and
prosecutors that is so essential to the provision of comprehensive and
steps to ensure that intersectoral collaboration is resuscitated effectively.
In all other provinces police management appears to have left this to luck and
first point of contact – remain the weak link in policing services.
unable to take statements of an acceptable quality and unfamiliar with the law,
they have also not been adequately trained.
Information from the SAPS suggested
a scant 2?491 of the uniform branch of the SAPS (which numbers more than
100 00) have been trained in the Sexual Offences Act since its promulgation in
response in years to the epidemic of sexual violence in South Africa.
stop at this or will they also ensure an effective, comprehensive policing
response to violence inflicted upon women and children?
» Vetten is the executive director of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre