OPINION | Reagen Allen: SAPS rude awakening - High price for ignoring Policing Needs and Priorities

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The author argues for the devolution of the police in the Western Cape. (Photo via Gallo Images)
The author argues for the devolution of the police in the Western Cape. (Photo via Gallo Images)

Police minister Bheki Cele's failure to consider the Western Cape's Department of Community Safety's tabling of a yearly Policing Needs and Priorities every year is tantamount to constitutional failure, writes Reagen Allen.

At his Imbizo last Friday, Police Minister Bheki Cele made the stunning remark that the Western Cape receives the "lion's share" of national policing resources from the South African Police Service (SAPS). This kind of statement not only lacks any basis in reality, but it discriminates against the poorest of this province's residents. With its centralised decision-making in Pretoria, SAPS effectively does a great disservice to our most vulnerable residents. 

Almost all of the SAPS stations located in crime hotspots are severely under-resourced. Whereas the UN's standard is one police officer for every 250 residents, Nyanga, Imizamo Yethu, Grassy Park, Ravensmead, and many others, hold a ratio of almost triple that amount. Detectives, responsible for investigating some of the most heinous crimes, carry caseloads of at least 250 – a figure that is at least five times what it should be for those brave men and women in blue. 

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While the facts show Minister Cele's comments originate from a place of either severe misinformation or profound delusion, the Western Cape Government (WCG) demonstrates that it is far more in touch with the actual state of safety in this province. 

More boots needed on the ground

This is exemplified through the provincial Department of Community Safety's tabling of a yearly Policing Needs and Priorities (PNPs) report, which without failure always speaks to the dire need for more boots on the ground and provision of the necessary equipment to prevent and fight crime. Although this report and its serious consideration by the National Minister for Police is a requirement reflected in South Africa's Constitution, Minister Cele's omission to do so – every year – is tantamount to a constitutional failure itself.

These PNP reports provide a qualitative and descriptive review of serious needs pertaining to safety in the province. It consistently raises the issue of where to target interventions to inform a better policing policy, with real impact at provincial levels. If the lead policing agency acted on these findings, we would be giving a chance for real change to the dangerous reality too many residents face on our streets. This is one reason why we maintain that much more could be done if the policing powers were decentralised to the provincial government.

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The PNP Report for 2020/21 is explicit that under-resourcing has been consistently highlighted since 2014, and by definition, this report must inform national policing policy. It is frankly inadmissible that there has been no real change to the resource base in the Western Cape after six years. Instead, the same report indicates that there has been a proposal for a review of the resourcing structure along with legal and compelling pressure from groups such as the Social Justice Coalition. But by the time of concluding the new report for the year, nothing has been heard since the initiation of a legal process three years ago. In addition, the latest report shows a decrease of 12 000 in personnel count over the last ten years, despite the apparent occurrence of consistent population growth in the Western Cape. The challenge is clearly in the lack of national political will, but the solution is that by the decentralisation of policing powers, we would move a step closer to making the Western Cape safer. 

Referendum needed 

According to the latest PNP report, the Western Cape currently records 58.2 murders per 100 000 residents, which is nine times higher than the global rate. Firearms remain the main drivers of the high homicide rate, and thus the WCG Safety Plan targets this challenge through supplementary safety resources. Where this has been done, we've seen a 372% increase in the confiscation of illegal firearms. But once these firearms are confiscated, they have to be sent off to SAPS and go through the nationally-defined destruction process – one which is leaky, requires distribution all the way to Pretoria, and far too often means those same firearms land back in the streets in the hands of criminals, all thanks to a cumbersome process and a few connected officials.

READ | In-depth: 'Devolution in itself does not lead to improvements' - expert on DA, Cele policing spat

In an effort to make policing efforts successful, we believe that transference of the SAPS Western Cape mandate and budget to the provincial government – that is, devolution – is needed. And that is why we support the holding of a referendum on this exact question. 

We have already got the government infrastructure to make this happen. For instance, our Community Safety Act formalises how the province's executive determines the PNPs and requires that the Portfolio Committee at Provincial Parliament, the Provincial Police Commissioner, and executive heads of municipal police services participate in formulating policing needs. After consultations, the Provincial Minister responsible for Community Safety submits approved PNP reports to inform the national policing policy and police station plans. This statutory obligation aims to ensure that communities' needs and priorities are accounted for and attended to.

Since 2010 the Department of Community Safety has extended its PNP methodologies from desktop analysis and surveys to performance-related information, cluster-based community consultations. Two years ago, the Department started thematic workshops to consider the social needs that contribute to high levels of crime in the province, such as drug abuse, gender-based violence and commuter safety. This method considers a holistic approach to prevent crime in the first place.

Enabling partner 

PNPs are comprehensive, and the enactment of their recommendations would allow for timely responses in crime-fighting initiatives. But without the necessary support from SAPS under the leadership of National Government, it is clear why addressing PNP remains challenged in this province. This is why we argue that the Western Cape is best placed to take care of and manage our safety resources through SAPS in the province.

The Western Cape Government has proven itself an enabling partner in making the province a safer space for everyone; it has upheld its constitutional obligations because it takes very seriously that safety is everyone's responsibly. We follow structured, and well-informed approaches in ensuring relevant PNPs are reported to inform policy as a long-term strategy towards a safer province. It is simply incomprehensible why the South African government blatantly ignores key findings towards a safer Western Cape. It is time to decentralise policing powers – lives are too high of a cost to pay

- Reagen Allen is the DA Western Cape Spokesperson for Community Safety

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