Plotting the fight for equitable allocation of police resources

2018-07-05 22:08

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The Western Cape has the greatest shortage of police officers in the country, with 85% of the police stations in the province understaffed. The Standing Committee on Community Safety in the Western Cape legislature asked the Public Service Commission (PSC) to investigate last year, after it held a series of public hearings into the matter.

The PSC has since completed its investigation and released its report. News24's Jenna Etheridge unpacks the report and other events that impact on police practices and shortages.

The PSC has made key recommendations to the South African Police Service (SAPS) to address its personnel practices and shortages, in a report released in June. Importantly, it has advised the Western Cape police commissioner to draft a plan on the equitable allocation of resources in the province within six months and submit it to the national police commissioner, who should then keep an eye on the plan's implementation.

PSC commissioner Dr Bruno Luthuli, who compiled the report, said the plan should have a specific focus on stations which have serious constraints, which were highlighted during the Khayelitsha Commission into Policing.

He also recommended that critical vacant funded posts should be filled within six months.

The allocation of police staff and resources in the Western Cape has been in the spotlight for quite a few years. It has been the topic of discussion in the legislature and came under scrutiny by the judiciary.

READ: The Western Cape's crippling police shortage by numbers

In 2013, it emerged in a National Assembly written reply that the province had a shortage of 1 012 police officers, the highest in the country. It also revealed that 85% of the province's police stations (128 stations) were understaffed.

In 2014, the Standing Committee on Community Safety led by Mireille Wenger, conducted oversight visits to police stations across the province and observed the challenges that police staff faced in carrying out their duties.

The committee resolved in 2015 to hold public hearings, to better understand the challenges and address the impact that shortages might have on communities. It also gathered input from key stakeholders. The hearings took place in October 2016.

Armed with this feedback and stark numbers of shortages, the committee tabled a report and Wenger wrote to the PSC in August 2017 to ask for an investigation into under-resourcing.

Around the same time, in March 2016, the Social Justice Coalition, Equal Education and the Nyanga Community Police Forum filed papers in the Equality Court in Cape Town over the allocation of police human resources. The national police minister, national and provincial police commissioners and the provincial community safety MEC were listed as respondents.

Call to overhaul the system

The applicants argued that the allocation of police across the nine provinces discriminated against poor black communities and that the system should be overhauled.

The case was heard in November 2017 and February this year. Judgment has not yet been handed down.

While making recommendations, the PSC said the outcome of the court case should be awaited "as this would have a major impact on the allocation of resources within the SAPS".

The PSC – which has the slogan ' Custodian of Good Governance' - is an independent constitutional entity empowered to conduct oversight over the public service.

Luthuli considered various reports and correspondence from different parties, the regulatory framework governing the police, and police expenditure over the medium term.

According to his report, a central issue to all investigations and research into resource allocation in the province was dissatisfaction regarding theoretical human resource requirements (THRR), which determines the ideal resources that should be placed at a police station to allow it to perform its functions.

The THRR calculates the ideal resources that should be allocated per police station "as if funds were unlimited".

Police-to-population ratio

The PSC said it took cognisance of the concern surrounding the province's police-to-population ratio, specifically in high-crime areas within the city.

In terms of the SAPS Act, the report reads, the provincial commissioner has command and control over the service under his or her jurisdiction and is empowered to establish and maintain police stations and units.

"Furthermore, a provincial commissioner is empowered to determine the strength of the service under his/her jurisdiction, which would include the allocation of resources."

According to the Estimates of National Expenditure 2018, SAPS would be reducing the number of funded staff posts over the medium term to remain with government's expenditure ceiling for the compensation of employees.

"It is clear that the allocation of human resources will be impacted negatively," Luthuli noted in his findings, referring to a drop from 193 431 posts in 2017/18 to 191 431 posts by 2020/21.

The PSC did not have access to information on the methodology in terms of the allocation of resources, but said it was clear from research conducted by the Department of Community Safety that "there is a gap between the number of funded posts on the fixed establishment [posts created for normal or regular requirements] and the number of posts determined in terms of the THRR".

SAPS has not yet responded to a request on Wednesday for comment on the PSC's recommendations.

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