OPEN LETTER TO BHEKI CELE | SAPS under-resourcing is a Constitutional failure

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The writer argues police are under-resourced.  (Jenni Evans, News24)
The writer argues police are under-resourced. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Jenni Evans

Reagen Allen writes an open letter to police minister Bheki Cele, saying the current caseload for detectives is arguably the clearest indicator of the rampant levels of under-resourcing in the SAPS establishment.


Dear Minister Bheki Cele 

The first set of crime statistics for 2021/22 from April to June is now more than a month overdue. As much as the figures are not an all-encompassing reflection of the true reality of safety in our streets, they are a reflection of the efforts of the South African Police Service, as the lead agency to support the safety of communities everywhere, and a tool to assist communities in understanding crime trends to assist the police in safety initiatives. The release of this information is something that is lacking urgency. It speaks to a greater problem of leadership and the failure of meeting basic administrative requirements -some as written in our Constitution. 

In its enactment of its constitutional responsibility set out in Section 206(3), which states that a province is entitled to monitor, oversee the effectiveness of policing and liaise with the national cabinet member, the Department of Community Safety in the Western Cape last year uncovered and reported that the Detectives Services division in the Western Cape face a case load of approximately 200 dockets per person. I hope by now, at the very least, you have consulted this valuable document referred. It is, after all, constitutionally ascribed to your office as the cabinet member, but not much seems to have been done to change this reality to date. 

Caseload

Nonetheless, the caseload for detectives is arguably the clearest indicator of the rampant levels of under-resourcing in the SAPS establishment. This substantially explains the dismal conviction rate in the province, while men and women in blue work hard but are over-stretched and suffer under leadership which feeds administrative inertia and justice delayed. 

Not much is being done to discourage crime by placing more boots on the ground, either. This is especially the case in neighbourhoods like Gugulethu, where the murder rate, according to the latest (Quarter 4) crime stats has increased by 43% and the attempted murder rate by 94%. This is but one example of the so-called priority stations in the province that don’t seem to receive much in actual prioritisation. 

The station situated in this area has eight fewer officers per shift in comparison to the previous year. This is because of national planning: the station had to accommodate a decrease of 16 officers in terms of its granted establishment. This revelation is incredibly discouraging to already over-burdened police officers, and so crime prevention efforts suffer. 

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I’ve learnt through my oversight responsibility that in all 10 of the priority crime stations in the Western Cape, there has been a decrease in the total number of South African police service members per station based on the granted establishment. This is even more shocking when considering that it is often the case where the actual establishment is already lower than what is officially granted. 

Now, when we consider Section 205(2) it clearly states that national legislation must enable the police service to discharge services effectively in line with requirements per province, which under section 206 (1) is a responsibility for the national minister to act on. 

Supplementation needed 

Minister, I am afraid that our Constitution is not being upheld in this regard - our requirements are far from "met". The provincial department has informed the national body of the needs and priorities annually, but action is still simply missing. 

Upon engagement with SAPS officers during a joint operation with province- and City-supported Law Enforcement Officers in Delft, I saw an evidently strong working relationship between SAPS and LEOs towards promoting safety in priority communities by ensuring a clear safety presence on the ground.  It is thus clear that the need for the supplementation of policing resources, with officers in particular, is necessary within communities and already employed officers. And this is a competency for you to bear, Minister. 

I write this letter in my capacity as Chairperson of Standing Committee on Community Safety at the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, to which the Constitution attributes a responsibility in terms of section 206(9). The enactment of this section led to answers to many questions that helped firmly establish the inertia from the national authority. Now what’s left to do is fill these critical posts, build the capacity to support hard-working officers, and rectify prevailing inefficiencies.

In as early as the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry, some might argue before, the national authority has been informed of the state of SAPS resourcing, and with the more frequent release of crime statistics for a real-time fix, I fail to see the reason behind the persistent delay in the provision of appropriate and sufficient resources.

Your urgent response to building trust in the police service by capacitation as a critical component in promoting safety to every community in need will be appreciated. Please take on this plight – it is not only your constitutional obligation but a reflection of the real needs of residents.

- Reagen Allen is Chairperson of SC on Community Safety in the WC Provincial Parliament

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