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What Police Minister Cele’s 100-day plan of action must be to fix the SAPS

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Zakhele Mbhele is a Member of Parliament, serving on the Police portfolio committee. He is an alumnus of the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was also Chairperson of the LGBT campus society, ACTIVATE. He first worked in the development sector as a programme officer for a grant-making organisation that supports community organisations working to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable groups. He subsequently worked in the Office of the Western Cape Premier as media liaison officer.

We need some quick wins now, while the arduous task of overhauling the SAPS gets underway for the medium term.

The recent re-appointment of Bheki Cele as Police Minister by President Cyril Ramaphosa is somewhat concerning, given that during his previous tenure Minister Cele demonstrated the insufficient political will to take the tough decisions needed to overhaul the South African Police Service into an effective and efficient crime-fighting agency.

Nonetheless, we must always allow for a “grace period” to give the benefit of the doubt at the start of a new administration so we can only hope that he will up his game this second time around. Minister Cele has a massive challenge on his hands to fix the SAPS and turn it around into a professional police service that can ensure safe streets and safe homes in South Africa.

The simple truth of the matter is that the SAPS is ineffective and dysfunctional, notwithstanding the efforts of many dedicated and diligent police officers who soldier on, often going above and beyond the call of duty, despite unconducive working conditions and inadequate support from senior management.

This organisational ineffectiveness and dysfunction is due to years of chronic neglect and mismanagement, rooted in political ANC misgovernance and the cronyism and corruption subsequently engendered.

As a result, most police stations are under-staffed, under-resourced, under-equipped and under-trained, our Crime Intelligence Division is in crisis and our Detective Service is in severe distress.

Flowing from this cronyism and cadre deployment, there is also weak enforcement of accountability which allows, at best, poor performance and mediocrity to flourish and, at worst, corruption and the deliberate sabotaging of police systems to take root.

What we need now are some quick wins, while the arduous task of overhauling the SAPS from top to bottom gets underway for the medium term. In the short term, the DA recommends Minister Cele do the following:

1. Localise more management authority and budget

Specifically, the Minister must issue a directive for the implementation of a “75/25 Budgeting Rule” as follows:

a) A maximum of 25% of the police budget would be ring-fenced for National, Provincial and cluster offices to carry out supervision and coordination functions.

Of the remaining 75%:

b) 1/3 (i.e. 25% of total budget) would be allocated equitably and directly to all police precincts (i.e. each station gets the same amount);

c) 1/3 (i.e. 25% of total budget) would be allocated directly to police stations, weighted according to crime statistics, so that communities with higher crime burdens are better-resourced;

d) 1/3 (i.e. 25% of total budget) would be allocated directly to police stations, weighted according to population, so that communities with more residents are better-resourced.

Flowing from this kind of localised approach, specialised units would be located at station level (and where warranted, cluster level) and drawing from the resources available in that precinct.

In addition, station and cluster commanders must be empowered and given the latitude to establish local safety partnerships with local and provincial governments, business, private security, residents and civic organisations to devise customised policing strategies that are responsive to crime profiles and dynamics in their local contexts, in alignment with other safety promotion efforts. This would include, significantly, the open sharing and publication of station crime statistics at least quarterly, if not monthly and even weekly.

2. Outsource administrative and technical functions

Specifically, the Central Firearms Registry, Criminal Records Centre and Forensic Science Laboratories must be put out to tender and reconfigured to operate as public-private partnerships to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

In addition, law firms can be contracted to perform discipline enforcement/consequence management processes through legally sound arbitration hearings so that those processes can happen more speedily.

In this way, the SAPS can focus more on proactive crime prevention and reactive crime-fighting operations, instead of time, energy and attention in the organisation being tied up in administrative processes and paperwork.

3. Strengthen and prioritise mechanisms and systems for complaints receipt and resolution and for performance monitoring

Complaints received about police performance from the public and reports from oversight work by public representatives must feed into an ongoing internal analysis of the police service to pinpoint areas of chronic dysfunction and to enable meaningful troubleshooting and resolution.

In addition, these complaints and reports must feed into the performance monitoring and assessment of police management, especially at station level, to hold them accountable for the localised resources and management authority entrusted to them.

Where they fall short, remedial interventions must be implemented and, in cases of severe underperformance, those stations must be placed under administration by Cluster or Provincial SAPS Offices, until the identified systemic defects are corrected.

This means that the Civilian Secretariat for Police must be adequately resourced and empowered to perform its duties, especially in line with sections 5, 6 and 32 of the Civilian Secretariat for Police Act.

Policing is not rocket science and effective policing is not difficult if we get the basics right. Our call to Minister Cele is that he drives and champions a relentless process to do just that. DM

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