Police watchdog commits to major policy change

2020-02-28 06:06
Acting executive director of IPID Victor Senna attending a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Police.

Acting executive director of IPID Victor Senna attending a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Police. (Jan Gerber, News24)

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The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) will redraft core parts of its strategic plan after a Viewfinder exposé showed they encouraged the manipulation of case completion statistics.

On Wednesday, IPID's acting head, Victor Senna, appeared before Parliament's portfolio committee on policing and said amendments would be made to IPID's performance targets to improve its impact on police conduct and accountability.

This announcement is in line with recommendations of an African policing civilian oversight forum policy paper that was published earlier in February.

The paper was prompted by a Viewfinder exposé which found IPID investigators, hamstrung by a lack of resources, had taken shortcuts to "complete" cases to inflate performance statistics.

Whistleblower reports published by Viewfinder suggested the push to meet performance targets had resulted in an obstruction of justice for victims of mostly violent crimes by police officers.

IPID's announcement also comes on the back of pressure from the portfolio committee which circulated the policy paper at Wednesday's briefing.

The DA's Andrew Whitfield, who has previously advocated for IPID to reconceptualise its performance targets, championed the policy paper's recommendations at the committee meeting. 

Speaking to Viewfinder afterwards, Senna said he would invite the forum to give input on IPID's new strategic plan at a special session in Pretoria in the coming weeks.

'Case screening'

This plan is a high-level document that will define IPID's policy direction and performance targets over the next five years. It is due to be tabled before Parliament for review and approval by the end of March.

The forum recommended that IPID formalise a system of "case screening" which would help investigators focus on the worst crimes committed by police officers. It would go hand in hand with the adoption of new impact-orientated performance targets. The forum's recommendations were explained in a Viewfinder analysis article this week.

But a system of case screening and prioritisation should not undermine IPID's constitutional duty to investigate all criminal allegations against the police, IPID's head of investigations, Matthews Sesoko, warned at yesterday's meeting. Even though funding shortfalls might limit IPID's ability to do this effectively, a system that might allow for lower-priority cases to go un-investigated was not a solution, Sesoko made clear.

The author of the forum paper, David Bruce, welcomed the news IPID would look to formalise case screening and redraft its performance targets. He said, however, his recommendations do not represent a silver bullet for addressing the challenges at IPID.

"The challenges at IPID are complex. Our recommendations open a space for debate about how best to address some of the key challenges," Bruce added.

"Such a debate is overdue. The priorities and targets laid out in IPID's new strategic plan should be informed by a process focused on improving IPID's impact."

This would need discussions with a range of people.

Issue of underpayment addressed

Senna also announced IPID would start paying its investigators on a scale equal to their counterparts in the police service, as prescribed by the IPID Act.

The issue of underpayment has been a long-standing grievance for investigators. In 2018, the Labour Court ordered IPID to backpay its employees for years of outstanding wages.

Management said yesterday it intended to do so, to the tune of R40m.

While the announcement will likely boost morale among investigators, it remains to be seen what impact this extra expenditure will have on IPID's notoriously stretched budget.

Wednesday's meeting concluded with some MPs grilling Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale for his boss' failure to appoint a new IPID executive director.

The position has been vacant for nearly a year, ever since the committee seconded a decision by Police Minister Bheki Cele not to renew former head Robert McBride's contract in February last year. Since then, Senna has assumed the role in an acting capacity.

Mathale said three shortlisted candidates had recently been interviewed for the position but all had been found wanting. Cele had now initiated a "head-hunting" mission to recruit an appropriate candidate from outside the directorate, Mathale said.

On Thursday, the portfolio committee issued a statement saying Cele would be in breach of the law if he does not appoint a new IPID head by the end of the week. 

"A fit and proper person must be appointed to head such a critical institution, as it serves as a watchdog over the South African Police Service," it said.

Read more on:    parliament  |  saps  |  ipid  |  cape town  |  police  |  governance
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