1% of crimes convicted

2016-05-31 06:00

Gang-related crime convictions at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court are recorded to be less than 1%.

This is according to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille who completed observations at several courts including Mitchell’s Plain recently.

The conviction rate currently stands at 0.7%, which was derived as an average over the last two years, ending in April.

This information was released by the Western Cape Government in a recent parliamentary reply by provincial minister for community safety, Dan Plato.

While policing and prosecutions mandates both rest with national government, the province is using its oversight mandate to monitor police conduct at prosecutions stage in Western Cape courts.

Zille released a statement last week discussing their observations.

“The convictions crisis is a sign of a dysfunctional criminal justice system. We are calling on police, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Justice Department to bring an end to this national disgrace,” Zille says. “As it stands, the chances of anyone going to jail for gang-related crime is close to zero in Mitchell’s Plain, the province’s number one precinct for violent crime, drug trafficking, and illegal possession of fire-arms.”

The precinct consists of nine sectors including Tafelsig, Westridge, Portlands, Eastridge, Beacon Valley and Town Centre.

But not only Mitchell’s Plain has seen low conviction rates as it is in line with past stats showing a province-wide conviction rate of below 2% between 2012 and 2014.

In Zille’s statement, provincial police reportedly confirmed gang crime was linked to 28.5% of all murders and attempted murders provincially in 2014/15.

“Gang violence has raged on in a climate of no consequences, with the indiscriminate shooting of innocent bystanders rising by 50% last year. There were a total of 466 victims, according to the latest SAPS annual report,” says the statement.

Zille added the recent Policing Needs and Priorities community engagements revealed concern from residents. The meeting sees the local government submit recommendations to the national police ministry on the province’s policing needs.

“Given the scale of human tragedy suffered by residents of gang-affected precincts, it is no wonder that 65% of Western Cape residents told us they have no confidence in the criminal justice system,” says Zille.

In the past year, the provincial government’s Court Watching Briefs unit alerted the Provincial Police Commissioner to more than 117 serious cases – including murder, attempted murder, rape and possession of drugs and guns – being removed from the court rolls largely due to police inefficiencies.

But this is not a fair statement, says Abie Isaacs, Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum chairperson. “We have raised our concerns on the low conviction rates at various levels. It is our mandate to do oversight on the police and we need to criticise when it is due and also give credit when it is due. To identify only one department is not fair.”
Isaacs adds the justice system consists of police, the national prosecuting authority, the City of Cape Town’s security directorate and the department of correctional services.
Zille says that the province was expanding the local government’s Court Watching Briefs unit to 25 courts this year, including Mitchell’s Plain.

According to the statement three main causes of low conviction rates have been identified by the unit, run by DOCS.
It is listed as failure by the investigating officer to finalise the investigation within a reasonable time, neglecting to have the police docket at court, and failure of the Investigating Officer to subpoena witnesses to attend court
Officers are expected to complete a preliminary investigation with-in 48 hours of an arrest, police say.

In the past, People’s Post documented the many concerns police have had with the local court. In 2014, Major- General Abraham Goss opened an investigation into a matter that saw four men, arrested in connection with drug related crimes, being released a mere six hours after they had been arrested (“Case under investigation”, 25 November 2014).
During the case a prosecutor and police official were under investigation for defeating the ends of justice as the men were not taken to court and police were denied the opportunity to properly investigate, Goss told People’s Post at the time.

But it was also the quick bail, outside of police recommendation that concerned Goss, especially in serious cases. “Bail is not our department. The issue was raised in a meeting with court officials because too many people are saying the same thing.”
This article was followed by several others documenting concerns with the lack of urgency, staff compliments and manner in which cases were dealt with at the court.

Police are simply too under-resourced to do their jobs properly, both in and out of court, says Zille, as there are 438 residents to one police officer in Mitchell’s Plain, according to figures provided to the provincial government.
The precinct has the highest rates of gang-related crime in the province, but 20% less police officers than the average South African community.

But Zille admits the police do not need to fight crime alone. There are 110 safety partners registered on the government’s safety department’s Community Organisation Database. The province is also providing essential equipment and training to neighbourhood watches, has deployed 42 School Safety Marshals. “The community is ready to make a difference, but they need the support of a strong criminal justice system.”

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