South African Police Service: information sharing session with National Commissioner

This premium content has been made freely available


05 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms L Chikunga (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Committee were given a briefing on Detective Services, Criminal Records and Forensic Science Services of the South African Police Service. Key issues highlighted about Detective Services included problems with personnel capacity, low conviction rates, migration of personnel to other SAPS departments, corruption and the perception of corruption within the SAPS, its commitment to work with other stakeholders including various government departments. Criminal Records and Forensic Science Services noted that the use of sophisticated technology together with the work-in-progress of the e-docket system was making significant inroads in the fight against crime. Over 6 million samples of fingerprints had been added to the SAPS database. There were still problems with storage facilities to keep samples used in the forensic science laboratories. The Western Cape Province was mentioned as the only province in the country that still had sample backlogs. Sample exhibits were destroyed in public once the cases concerning those samples were finalised in courts. There were also problems with personnel shortages in the Criminal Records and Forensic Science Services unit, particularly from level 8 to 12. The unit was in the process of purchasing equipment for these labs to ensure that they function at their optimum level of capacity.

Committee members raised questions on a number of issues, most notably the low conviction rates. National Commissioner Bheki Cele said the issue of conviction rates could best be answered by the criminal justice cluster as a whole rather than the police only. Other hotly debated matters were language and the taking of statements from witnesses. The Democratic Alliance members were concerned that there was a communication problem between the complainants and the police. Commissioner Cele said the issue of language raised constitutional questions and it needed to be addressed in light of the demands of the Constitution.

The newly formed Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation’s head also gave a brief overview of what his unit has done since its inception. He was reminded by members that what mattered were convictions his unit had achieved rather than how many arrests they had made. There were also concerns about the mandate of the DPCI as it appeared that some of the cases which they were investigating fell outside of its mandate. These concerns were cleared up by the DPCI head’s response.

Meeting report

Presentation on Detective Services of South African Police Service
Divisional Commissioner Raymond Lalla said that his department was responsible primarily for the investigation of crime. He outlined their mandate as being the increasing of the detection rate for contact crimes from 53% to 54%, increasing the detection rate for property related crimes from 15% to 16%. Other notable aims of the Detective Services were to reach a target of 42% detection rate for sexual offences and assault against women and children in 2009/10. It was also committed to increasing the conviction rate of cases that go to court. Commissioner Lalla spoke about the current review of structures in order to enhance the capacity of the department in carrying out its mandate. Some of these structural changes would include the formation of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) and the Criminal Justice Review.

A five year review programme was outlined by Commissioner Lalla. This review showed statistics from 2004 to 2009. It contained an overview of serious crimes that were taken to court, the detection rate over the years, the conviction rate of those cases. There was a remarkable increase in serious crimes taken to court as well in the detection rate. Be that as it may, there was a rather unconvincing conviction rate across the board for all crimes investigated and taken to court. In some instances, the statistics showed a decrease in conviction rates especially organised crime. Despite notable challenges in terms of arrests and convictions, there were successes recorded during the 2007/08 financial year, wherein a programme called “Operation Funeka” resulted in the arrest of 7863 suspects in 7393 cases. This dramatically increased in the 2008/09 financial year where 42 461 suspects were arrested in 59 775 cases.

The presentation highlighted the need for greater cooperation between the Justice Department and the Ministry of Police. In terms of the previous committee recommendations, this could be achieved through measures such as fostering the efficiency of the commercial crimes court, placing detectives as court officials, collaboration between the police and correctional services, creating an environment that promoted greater cooperation between detectives and prosecutors. The other critical intervention that needed to be strengthened was the government and department policy alignment which would see various stakeholders and government departments such as Home Affairs, SARS, Civil Aviation, SANDF, Metro Police working together to combat crime.

Commissioner Lalla also spoke about the challenges that his department was facing. The main challenge was the shortage of detectives, some who left the ranks because of promotion to higher levels. At present, there were 4168 level six posts that needed to be filled by October 2009. A further 1041 level eight posts also needed to be filled by 31 March 2010. In closing, Commissioner Lalla outlined the overall strategic plans and goal of the department, most notably the ratifying and implementation of new structure, the improvement of training given to detectives, putting in place a proper functioning e-docket system in all police stations and improving communication and feedback to victims of crime. All these goals would be achievable through fast tracking projects that would facilitate the investigative process such as compiling a list of wanted suspects distributed to provinces, creating a centralised system that would make it easy for police stations to have easy access to whatever information they may need for the detection and prosecution of crime. This would include putting in place morpho-touch finger printing operations and linking police stations to forensic science laboratories.

Presentation on Criminal Records and Forensic Science Services
Divisional Commissioner Piet du Toit noted that his department was established in 2005, its main objectives were the gathering and issuing of previous conviction reports and, secondly, attending crime scenes for the purposes of obtaining evidence that could facilitate the investigation of crime. One of their main functions had been processing fingerprints of suspects and storing them in the database. There were over six million persons whose samples were contained in the database and this figure increased on a daily basis.

Challenges identified included the shortage of trained personnel. This department said it was working closely with personnel services and career management services to address this issue. There were improvements in this as there was an increase of personnel in the Forensic Science Laboratories (FSL), where in 2009, a total of 1132 personnel has been recruited, up from 876 in 2006. The Criminal Record Centre (CRC) had also improved in personnel, moving from 3076 in 2006 to 3530 in 2009.

There is a need to train and re-train personnel in order to keep up with the investment in new technology. There is a strict adherence by the department to all international standards of running forensic science laboratories and this involved accreditation of personnel to ensure that all the personnel and procedures adhered to high standards.

Up to date, new equipment worth R185 000 000 had been procured. This also included R50 million that had been approved this year for the purchase of new equipment. Despite these signs of improvements, technology and equipment still fell far too short of what was needed to run the department efficiently.

One of the major challenges facing the department of forensic science was shortage of storage facilities, particularly the Western Cape. There were measures in place to help the situation and the department was in the process of building a new forensic science laboratory which was expected to be completed in September 2010. Other provinces also had problems with storage but enough attention was being given to address this shortage of storage and space.

Another challenge highlighted was the inadequate information systems and networks. There had recently been an investigation launched to assess what necessary improvements and upgrading needed to be done on the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Also to receive a review would be the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), the DNA database, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and the Exhibit Management System (EMS). The strategic plan of the Criminal Record and Forensic Science Services included the overhaul of the criminal justice system that would see a review of crime scene management standard procedures by October 2009. 

Presentation on Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI)
Mr Anwar Dramat, the head of the unit, gave a brief information sharing presentation about his department. He reminded the members that his input would be very brief since the directorate had been in existence for only one month. He gave an account of the arrests his unit had made up to date since its existence. He said the mandate of his unit was to investigate and prosecute organised crime as well as serious economic crime. He said he was unable to give a five-year review of his department.

Ms D Schafer (DA) asked Commissioner Lalla to explain the e-docket process. She wanted some clarity as to how far the process was at the present moment. She was also concerned about the low conviction rate of suspects and wanted to know what the department was planning to do on that issue. She asked if part of the cause was the quality of statements that were taken at police stations which often, in her understanding, was done by inexperienced officers who did not share or understand the language of complainants.

Ms Kohler-Barnard (DA) also raised concern about the low conviction rates. On compiling the wanted suspect list, she thought that was a brilliant idea. However, she asked if this list would be accessible to the public at large.

Ms Kohler-Barnard also expressed concern about the time which the criminal record centres took to generate a report on criminal records. She asked if this was a problem of capacity or not and, if so, how it could best be resolved to ensure a speedy resolving of cases in court. On the issue of Forensic Science Laboratory backlogs, this was a deeply worrying problem. She asked for more clarity as to the exact figures of this backlog. She recalled Minister Mthethwa saying the sample backlog country-wide was around 11 758, but after her own investigation, she found that Western Cape alone had a backlog of over 18 000 samples. She asked how long it was going to take to wipe out all the backlogs completely.

Mr W Faber (DA) asked whether the department still had programmes such as those of sending specialised investigation units investigators oversees to receive more training. Was South Africa still working hand-in-hand with Interpol and other international crime fighting organisations?  He went on to emphasise the concern about the language barrier, saying in the Northern Cape for instance, a predominantly Afrikaans speaking province, one often found English or Xhosa speaking investigators who had very poor understanding of Afrikaans. 

Rev K Meshoe (ACDP) asked about the 13000 new detectives that Commissioner Lalla said were still to be trained. How many detectives needed to be recruited in order to have an adequately resourced department? He asked about the levels of computer literacy within the department, saying it would be a futile exercise to talk of rolling out the e-docket system when in fact the majority of detectives were computer illiterate. Was the problem of shortage of storage in forensic science laboratories caused by the large number of exhibits that were kept, even after the cases had been finalised? When and how were these exhibits disposed of, that is, were they destroyed in private or in public?

Mr M George (COPE) took issue with some of what was said by Commissioner Lalla. He even suggested, jokingly, that Commissioner Lalla should be recruited into politics. Commissioner Lalla went all out to downplay poor performance by branding it a problem of capacity. He challenged Commissioner Lalla to explain what he meant in his presentation when he said there was a perception of corruption in the SAPS. Mr George put it to Commissioner Lalla that corruption in the rank and file of SAPS was not a perception but a reality. On the figures given for arrests made, Mr George felt there were too many arrests but not many convictions and he thought this was the reason why there were so many lawsuits about unlawful arrests - costing the ministry a lot of money.

On skills migration, Mr George said it was a sad reality that promotions were linked to salaries and this caused skilled people to leave investigations for higher posts that paid more. This could be resolved by promoting and rewarding experienced skilled investigators adequately while at the same time keeping them in positions where they do what they know best, even if it meant keeping them doing investigation work.

On equipment and the costs thereof, Mr George pointed out that Commissioner Du Toit had mentioned that his department received R185 million to purchase new equipment. However, this was not very helpful without information on how much his unit needed in order to be fully equipped. It was critical for Commissioner Du Toit to furnish that information to make it easy for Members of Parliament to assist where they could as the success of forensic science laboratories depended largely on the availability of equipment.

Lastly Mr George reminded Mr Dramat that while it was understandable that his unit was still new, they would appreciate it if he returned at a later stage to brief them on the number of convictions his unit had recorded from the number of arrests that he had provided in his presentation.

Ms A Mocumi (ANC) asked how effective the witness protection programme was and why was it that there were some key witnesses and to some extent detectives themselves who died at the hands of criminals.

Mr X Mabaso (ANC) asked whether there were any measures to assess the performance of detectives. He also raised concern over too many posts being occupied by people in an acting capacity. He hoped that the new Commissioner would speedily address the issues that he raised.

The Chairperson asked why the department only based its target on the previous baseline information. This was a worrying factor considering that there were many mechanisms that could be used to inform the setting of new targets. Her other question concerned the length of time that it took to fill vacant posts – it to nearly a year to fill an advertised post.

In his response, National Commissioner Bheki Cele started by addressing the issue of convictions in relation to arrests made. He said this was a question that could be best answered by the entire security cluster. He also said some of the causes that led to very low conviction rates had nothing to do with his department hence it was important to call upon everyone involved to account. Marrying the issue of calling the entire structure to account, Commissioner Cele said Ms Mocumi’s question about the witness protection programme was an example, for instance, which the Justice Department needed to explain.

Commissioner Cele however conceded that there was a problem of language, particularly in the taking of statements at police stations. He suggested that perhaps his department and the Justice Ministry should look into the issue again, suggesting that perhaps the issue of the taking of statements should be left to the paralegals and legally trained individuals rather than the police.

On promotion and salaries, Commissioner Cele said this was a challenge that needed to be seriously revisited. There was a need to review the entire retention strategy and make it suit the needs of the department. He gave an example of a station commissioner with a bachelor’s degree in forensics but who did not do forensics work because she the department could not pay her the same salary she was getting as a station commissioner. This was a problem affecting not only the police but other departments in government as well.

Commissioner Cele said the issue of language raised difficult constitutional questions and he was unable to give his opinion on the matter but was willing to engage and debate the issue further with relevant stakeholders.

In response to Mr George on corruption, Commissioner Cele said, while he conceded that corruption was a serious a challenge in his department, there were police officers who were doing an excellent job in fighting crime. He asked members and the public in general to come down hard on corrupt officials but also to extend a pat of the hand to those who did a good job. He had listened carefully to Commissioner Lalla’s presentation and what he said was that there was both corruption and a perception that police officials were corrupt.

Mr Dramat replied to the question on the mandate of the DPCI, saying his new unit had co-opted the organised crime intelligence unit as well as the commercial crimes unit. As a result some of the arrests which were made fell into those previous departments. He did say they were in the process of doing an assessment of the mandate of the DPCI.

Mr Dramat further confirmed that there were agreements in place with various countries in terms of which South African investigators would be sent to receive further training overseas on how to combat crime. He answered in the affirmative the question about the close working relationship between SAPS and the Interpol. 

Commissioner Lalla spoke briefly about the e-docket system saying indeed there were a few challenges in some stations but there were many stations that were responding positively to the system. On the issue of arrests and convictions, he said there were a lot of cases that were withdrawn in court and this had an impact on the conviction rate.

Addressing the question by Chairperson about the targets and the use of previous baselines, Commissioner Lalla said this was an issue to be reviewed at the next strategic planning meeting and he pleaded more time to look at it.

On the matter of skills migration of personnel to other departments, Commissioner Lalla said a directive had been given to bring back those detectives who had been lost to other departments and this was work still in progress to ensure that those skilled detectives were brought back.

Commissioner Du Toit answered those questions falling under his Forensic Science Services unit. On the issue of training, he said a lot of people that he recruited from university still needed to go through a vigorous internal training process and this training came at a heavy price tag.

Referring to the backlog of samples, Commissioner Du Toit said there was misuse of terminology. He said the backlog which he referred to were samples which were processed but could not be matched to any suspect. An example given by him was that out of 26 000 sample collected, only 2000 were matched with suspects and the rest had to be stored while waiting for suspects to be arrested and this was what they referred to as backlog. He said the Western Cape Province was the only province with a backlog on drugs that had yet to be processed.

With regard to storage problems, he said this was a real challenge but his department was doing everything in its power to resolve the problem. Once the cases that relate to the exhibits were finalised in courts, the samples were destroyed and this was done in public.

About the training of personnel for the use of the new equipment, his department had agreements with the various companies that sold them the equipment. These companies undertook to train and certify as competent his personnel on how to use the equipment.

Addressing the question on vacancies, Commissioner Du Toit said the challenge in his department existed only from level 8 to 12. There were 326 vacancies that needed to be filled to date and he was hopeful that many of them would be filled in the next promotion process that was coming in due course.

Referring to the question from Mr George about the funds needed to purchase equipment, Commissioner Du Toit said in the next three years, his department would receive R340 million in year one, of which R91 million would be used to purchase equipment. In year two, R540 million would be allocated and R120 milllion would be used to purchase equipment. In year three, he said R658 million would be allocated of which R120 million would be used for the purchase of equipment into forensic science laboratories.

The Chairperson thanked SAPS for the information sharing session. Due to time constraints, she was unable to open up another round of questions. However, she requested members who still had questions to write them down so that they could be forwarded to the relevant officials within the SAPS.

The meeting was adjourned


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: