National police commissioner Bheki Cele has sharply criticised other elements of the criminal justice system — notably those granting bail and parole — for making already dangerous police work even more so.
Cele was questioned by MPs in Parliament’s police porfolio committee over the lowering of the government’s crime reduction targets, Business Day newspaper reports this morning. Last week it emerged in the committee that the police had lowered their crime reduction target from 7%-10% to just 4%-7% per year over he next three years. Cele said the changed target “was due to elements in the system that were outside of police control,” namely to harmonise police targets with that of the rest of the criminal justice sytem.
The police’ s track record has been criticised repeatedly and Cele’s defence aimed to apportion some of the blame to other parts of the criminal justice system, the Business Day noted. He also seemed to indicate a relaxation of the policy of releasing crime statistics only once a year, in the annual report, when he said: “We need to tell the people what is happening; we need to allow South Africans to know.”
Supporting his argument about the need for more efficient management of bail and parole, Cele said that police had arrested a member of the infamous “Rolex Gang”, named for their favourite bait, three times under extremely dangerous conditions, only to see the person get bail repeatedly. He said those whom the police were chasing were often released. He also cited the case of a suspect in a cash-in-transit heist who had been arrested four times and each time was released on bail, he pper noted. In another incident, a gang member in Cape Town had been sentenced to 36 years in prison but was out on bail pending the resolution of his appeal. Cele said bail and parole needed to be managed better because “we are getting more flak on this than we deserve”.
Perhaps the most famous case that illustrates the phenomenon Cele mentioned is that of Alix Carmichele, who was attacked by a man with previous convictions for assault and indecent assault but who was out on bail after being charged with the rape of a 16-year- old. The attack left her with a fractured skull, broken arm and deep knife wounds. It took her seven years to win damages from the state for failing to protect her by releasing the man, Business Day continued. Cele also issued a blistering attack on the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), which he said was “a big problem for us”. He is not the first to do so. The Department of Home Affairs has blamed SITA for the delays in its smart ID card project.
Cele told MPs he would not give any money to SITA. He said the state agency had tried to sell the police outdated technology at prices far more than those charged by the private sector. Cele also wanted to know why SITA charged a 9% administration fee when it was not keeping pace with technology. He said many government departments were refusing to use SITA for their IT needs.
He also questioned those who said SA’s crime rate was the worst in the world. “I don’t know where they come from with this.” He said 188 countries belonged to Interpol but many of them in similar positions to SA simply did not supply their crime statistics to the international policing body. He agreed that South African crime was intensely brutal, but said a case for it being the worst in the world could not be made.
Meanwhile Democratic Alliance MP and police shadow minister Dianne Kohler Barnard said the police had suspended its divisional commissioner for legal services, Lindiwe Mtimkulu. The MP said the move comes “almost three years after a damning 400-page R8 million report into the Police Legal Services was compiled. We have asked repeatedly for action to be taken on that report, and for its contents to be publicly disclosed, so we welcome her suspension, but also need to establish why SAPS took so long to act on its recommendations.
“Indeed, it still needs to be clarified upon exactly what grounds she has been suspended, though the list of charges made against her by the abovementioned report would certainly seem to be the most obvious reason,” Kohler Barnard added.
The MP said the report, by law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenberg revealed gross mismanagement, in particular that Mtimkulu operated in an ‘autocratic’ fashion “and was unable to make legal decisions because she suffered from ‘a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and legal processes’.”
At the time that the report was commissioned, the backlog of civil legal claims stood at 19 000, and many claims took three years and upwards for the SAPS to settle. The latest information from the 2008/2009 SAPS annual report states that the police have earmarked R7.5 billion for possible civil legal claims against the department. The total figure is up from R5.7 billion in 2007/2008, indicating a deteriorating state of affairs in the Legal Services Division. These claims include assault, shootings, damage to property, police actions, vehicle accidents and legal costs, the DA said.