How crime is on the increase inside the SAPS
by The Editor
FEATURE: The number of criminal cases brought against SAPS members and to the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) has increased by almost 300% from 1998 to 2011 – from 639 to 2 493 cases. The problem is so bad new legislation has recently been introduced to increase the ICD’s powers. But will it have the desired effect? To get a fuller understanding of the problem and the extent of the challenges facing the SAPS, read on.
How crime is on the increase inside the SAPS
According to the Independent Complaints Directorate [ICD] annual reports for 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 the number of criminal cases reported to the directorate has systematically increased from 639 cases in 1998 to 2 493 cases in 2011 (the highest number ever recorded), an increase of just under 300%. The ICD’s job is solely to investigate instances of alleged misconduct by members of the police service (the SAPS and the various metro police services). So, if the number of instances of alleged criminal misconduct by police members is increasing every year, what does that say about the people charged with protecting us from crime?
Based on those two annual reports identified above, I have put together the following graph, tracking the increase in reported SAPS criminal cases over time:
(To view the graph full scale, right click on it and select ‘view image’)
Quite clearly there is a problem. And remember, these are not all cases brought against members of the police service, there are other, separate categories too, including cases of misconduct (2477 cases reported in 2011), domestic violence (102 cases in 2011) and deaths in police custody (797 cases in 2011 – the ICD must investigate these, regardless of circumstance). All-in-all a total of 5 869 cases brought against SAPS officials. But criminal cases in particular are important (and include things like corruption, assault, kidnapping, fraud, robbery and theft) and so is a fair and significant illustration of the problem.
What can the reason be? And is it fair to say, based on that graph, the police services are becoming more corrupt over time?
Mitigating factors include the size of the police service, which has grown substantially over the same period. Likewise, it could be an illustration of a more open and accountable culture developing in South Africa – that is, that more people are prepared to bring cases against members of the police service without fear of reprisal. But, even then, the numbers and the growth seem disproportionate.
Certainly one can rule out effectiveness. The ICD has generated over the past few years an enormous backlog. According to the ICD’s 2010/11 report 2 555 cases were carried over that year bringing its total case workload to 8 424. So it’s processing less cases than it receives and that cannot contribute to a culture of consequences – one where crimes committed by SAPS officials are met with swift and speedy sanction. That isn’t necessarily the ICD’s fault. It doesn’t boast a very large budget – just R196 million for the 2012/13 financial year of which just R98 million is dedicated to investigations. All things considered, that’s tiny. Divide 98 million by 5 860 and you get an average of some R16 700 a case.
One would also have to take account of the number of prosecutions. Not ever case brought against a SAPS member has any merit and many are dismissed. In 2010/11 501 cases brought to the ICD’s attention were investigated and the evidence so compelling the matter was referred to the Public Prosecutor (127 cases of death in police custody and 374 criminal cases). In 2009/10 526 cases were referred to the Public Prosecutor (112 and 414 respectively) so that number seems relatively steady.
The other, perhaps more obvious explanation, is that SAPS members are committing more crimes. If that is the case, the question is why?
On 1 April this year, the ICD changed its name to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) in accordance with new legislation designed to enhance the necessary powers and capacity of the IPID to effectively carry out oversight of the police.
That is an excellent development and should be welcomed but it would also seem to constitute an acknowledgement that the ICD was failing to have its desired effect and the number of crimes committed by SAPS officials was getting a point where the system itself needed to change. That is cause for serious concern. So much so that there are an increasing number of people who have taken to campaigning on the issue. See here for example.
As with every mechanism designed to enforce and promote accountability, its effect will only ever be as powerful as the political will that underpins it. And so it will be interesting to watch the IPID over the next few years and see whether or not its new powers result in a reduction in SAPS crime. For country which, as President Zuma himself put it, suffers a “crisis of accountability” this will be another test for the ANC government.
Its attitude to those various people charged with managing the SAPS, from Jackie Selebi, through Bheki Cele, through Richard Mdluli, would suggest that is where the real test lies. Certainly it must be a contributing factor to the increasing and pervasive nature of crime in the South African Police Services.
To follow Inside Politics by e-mail simply go to the bottom of the page and fill in your address. When you confirm it, you will receive an e-mail the moment any new post is loaded to the site.