Ill-conceived police restructuring aided crime: study


A series of police re-organisations during the watch of former police commissioner Jackie Selebi that saw the disbandment of specialised regional policing units with the stated intent of improving the capacity of police stations failed to do so. So says the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

The ISS yesterday briefed the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Police yesterday on the results of its study into the effect of the restructuring of the police during Selebi’s controversial 2000-2008 tenure.

ISS senior researcher Johan Burger told MPs the closing of specialised police units led to low staff morale and the departure of highly trained specialist officers – while incidents of robbery, housebreaking and sexual assault rose. Among the units closed were those dealing with family violence and child protection, corruption, serious and violent crimes, and narcotics. Burger reminded MPs Selebi, now on trial for corruption, had closed a dedicated anti-corruption unit in 2003. He says the extent of corruption in the police is now unknown.

Democratic Alliance shadow police minister Diane Kohler Barnard afterwards added the unit was closed because “investigations had identified [criminal] suspects linked to senior national police officials. The closure of this Unit has lead to massive corruption within the SAPS with no information available on the full extent of the problem.”

On the closure of the family violence, child protection, and sexual offences (FCS) units – which Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has said will be reversed – Burger quoted from research by Western Cape child rights NGO Rapcan, which said the closure had a “profound impact” on both police officers and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse The Times newspaper reported. The NGO found that the disbanding of the unit and transferring of its members to local police stations had created confusion and uncertainty among officers.

Public order policing also suffered as a result of the restructuring. Burger said this decision was evident in 2008 when overstretched riot police could not completely contain xenophobic violence and had to call on the army for assistance.

He said the reason given for the disbanding of the specialised units was that it would make the police more effective in fighting crime, but crime statistics showed that violent crimes, such as car hijackings, and house and business robberies, were still on the rise. “The intention was to make the police more efficient and more effective. But we don’t see that reflected in the crime trends.”

Kohler Barnard says one result of the closure of the anti-narcotics unit is that drug related crimes soared by 87% from 62 689 in 2003/04 when the unit was shut down, to 117 172 in 2009. “The street level drug trade has been neglected and there is an increase in cocaine and ecstasy evident,” she said.

The DA MP welcomed as “good news” moves by Mthethwa to re-establishing the FCS units which he says will be fully operational by March 2011. “The process of getting these units back up and running has been slow, nevertheless we applaud the Minister for recognising that they are essential to tackling crimes against women and children. The DA also welcomes the fact that a timetable for the unit’s re-implementation is on the table.
“The DA hopes that this additional research from the ISS, will provide the impetus for the Minister to consider the re-establishment of the other specialised units that were shut down by former Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi.”