Impact of SAPS restructuring: Institute for Security Studies research & review of policy changes on SAPS National Inspectorate

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31 May 2010
Chairperson: Ms L Chikunga (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Institute for Security Studies reported on its research into the impact of restructuring of the South African Police Service on its service delivery and a review of the functioning of the National Inspectorate. Restructuring had failed to improve service delivery in terms of reducing impact crimes. This was the case despite increases in police staff and budget. Instead of improving service delivery, restructuring had contributed to the disbanding of effective specialist crime fighting units which had a good track record of fighting crime. Problems included loss of skills, poor morale and infiltration of corruption within the rank and file of SAPS. Despite huge increases in the police budget and numbers, the number of  South Africans feeling unsafe living in South Africa had grown from 25% to 62%. The ISS recommendations based on the research were that there should be a clear strategy for police reform over the next three to five years, which should be developed as part of a White Paper policy process. There should be a pilot project first that would serve as an evaluation tool before the strategy was rolled out. The strategy should be developed by teams of highly experienced police officials and civilians with proven experience in effective change management. Further, the strategy should be informed by best policing practices both locally and internationally and implementation should be independently assessed and reported on to the Minister of Police and Parliament.

While some members of the Committee pointed out that it had been proven that the closure of certain Specialised Units had led to the unmitigated disaster which was facing the department in terms of fighting crime and asked since there was overall consensus that mistakes had been made in closing down some of the units which were effective, how long would it take to bring some of those units back to life? However, other committee members questioned the methodology used to draw the damning conclusions of the report. The members pointed out that the presenters conceded that they were denied access to certain critical information by SAPS which might have enhanced their methodology and sample. These members therefore  suggested that different results might have emerged if certain critical information had been used. They found the report overly negative with no mention of the positive which been witnessed by them during oversight visits. Since relations between ISS and the SAPS had improved, another survey needed to be conducted to objectively assess the impact of police restructuring.

The Institute for Security Studies in its review of the National Inspectorate said that it had turned inefficient over the past few years and that the process of restructuring had contributed to the problems which had been encountered such as lack of cooperation from provincial commissioners. Members asked whether it was of any value to retain the National Inspectorate considering that there were other independent external monitoring bodies such as the Independent Complaints Directorate. Decentralisation and a thorough consultation process were suggested as the way forward towards salvaging what was left of the National Inspectorate.

Meeting report

Review of SAPS National Inspectorate
Ms Bilkis Omar, Senior Researcher: Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told the Committee that the National Inspectorate played an important role in ensuring that police stations and specialist units functioned effectively and in accordance with procedure. The National Inspectorate was required to regularly conduct inspections and evaluations concerning relevant officers. Since 2005, the performance of the National Inspectorate had dwindled considerably to relatively poor levels. The reasons identified for the decline were poor staff morale due to restructuring and a questionable management style which was later imposed. Ms Omar suggested that in order to make the National Inspectorate perform at optimal level, radical reforms needed to be effected especially at leadership level. There was need to consult, especially with provincial commissioners who had shown that they were unhappy at being left out of the strategy-formulating process.

The Chairperson said that Ms Omar had “lost” her when she was explaining the history of the National Inspectorate, especially during the period 2006-2008. She asked if Ms Omar knew or had seen the tool used by the National Inspectorate in doing its evaluations. The ‘Challenges’ section of Ms Omar’s document where she suggested that the management style of the National Inspectorate was questionable was vague. Clarity was needed as to what that actually meant.

Ms Omar replied that what she was trying to highlight was that since 2005, there had been a battle within SAPS top leadership over the centralisation or decentralisation of the provincial structures of the National Inspectorate. The provincial commissioners, at one stage logged a complaint with the then Acting Commissioner, Tim Williams, querying the decision to centralise the administration of the National Inspectorate. The resentment of the centralised National Inspectorate structure by the Provincial Commissioners was finally resolved when Commissioner Williams supported decentralisation but signs were that a move towards a centralised structure was being mooted. A decentralised structure was the only way which would ensure that the National Inspectorate functioned at its optimal level of capacity.

Ms Omar commented that she had not physically seen the monitoring tool but had read from a SAPS policy document about the evaluation form used and was satisfied that it was very comprehensive. The “questionable management style” referred to the fact that the Provincial Commissioners had been left out of the consultation process. 

Ms G Dube (ANC) asked if it was a worthwhile exercise to have an internal oversight mechanism to monitor the Police, especially since it was not effective and there were external police oversight bodies such as the independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and other civilian bodies.

Ms Omar replied that the internal oversight mechanism for the police remained critical and there was no doubt that it had a very important function to play. The only thing that needed to be improved was its efficiency. An improvement in the structure of the National Inspectorate needed to be focused on the area of setting up provincial components rather than letting the control of the organisation be at national level.  Also, a bigger staff complement was needed in order to cope with the workload.

Restructuring of SAPS: review by Institute for Security Studies
Crime expert Dr Johan Burger, ISS Senior Researcher, said that his research into the impact of restructuring was hampered by the lack of cooperation from the Police who refused his team access to resources that would have facilitated the smooth carrying out of the survey. The aim of the research was to probe the impact of the SAPS restructuring exercise which began in 2001. The major concerns with restructuring, as found in the report, were that it resulted in the disbandment of specialised units and had their members migrated to various accounting and priority stations. The end results were weakened specialisation, loss of expertise, loss of organisational capacity to produce replacements and a general loss of esprit de corps. The restructuring had seen police expand in numbers, their budget increased but although murder rates went down (by 44%), trio crimes, that is, car hijackings, business robberies and house robberies increased. Decrease in murder could not be easily be attributed to police hard work or restructuring because murder was one of those offences which police, generally, had little impact in curbing. The conclusions of the research found that restructuring had little impact on service delivery and that certain specialised units such as the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit; the Crime Combating Units (public order policing) and the Anti-Corruption Unit, were unjustifiably closed down despite having a good track record.

Dr Burger said that corruption remained a substantial problem plaguing the SAPS. The number of South Africans that felt unsafe living in South Africa had moved from 25% to 62% despite the increased budget and police numbers. Instead of improving service delivery, restructuring resulted in confusion and uncertainty both internally and externally. In addition, it led to demoralisation and demotivation of many members. The process of restructuring by shifting away from specialised services had proved to be out of step with comparable countries. The disbanding of specialised units, many which were responsible for crowd management, proved costly especially during the xenophobic violence. The recommendations from the research were that there should be a clear strategy for police reform over three to five years, which should be developed as part of a White Paper policy process. There should be a pilot project first that would serve as an evaluation tool before the strategy was rolled out. The strategy should be developed by teams of highly experienced police officials and civilians with proven experience in effective change management. Further, the strategy should be informed by best policing practices both locally and internationally and implementation should be independently assessed and reported on to the Minister of Police and Parliament.

Mr G Lekgetho (ANC) commented that restructuring was an inevitable exercise. He asked what the staff complement of the ISS was, how it was constituted and the vacancy rate of the organisation.

The Chairperson intervened and said members needed to ask questions that were relevant to the agenda and presentation. Mr Burger was however free if comfortable to tell the Committee about the staff complement in his organisation although he was not obliged to do so.

Dr Burger replied that his unit was comprised of himself (programme head), two senior researchers, one researcher and one junior researcher. There was only vacant position which had been advertised and the process was in motion to find a replacement. Ms Omar said that under her unit, there was a sizable number of staff, many of whom were employed as researchers.

Ms D Schafer (DA) needed confirmation that indeed the reported 44% reduction in incidents of murder was a true reflection of the state of affairs at ground level. There was a common danger within SAPS to manipulate statistics and one could not easily dispel that problem when told of such a significant reduction.

Mr Burger said that statistics for murder were one of the most accurate and difficult to manipulate because in most cases, for every murder, there was a corpse to account for that murder and an issued death certificate. The chances of manipulating murder statistics were very slim.

Ms Kohler-Barnard said it was depressing to be told of these findings from the ISS. The SAPS National Inspectorate had always been a problem child. One would even argue that it served as a dumping site for ex-SAPS criminal elements and operated like a police-holding cell. What was even more depressing was to have dedicated police officials being inspected by elements which were not fit and proper to be in the rank and file of the Police. The situation at the Inspectorate was simply appalling.

Ms Kohler-Barnard pointed out that it had been proven that the closure of certain Specialised Units had led to the unmitigated disaster which was facing the department in terms of fighting crime. Considering that there was overall consensus that mistakes had been made in closing down some of the units which were effective, how long would it take to bring some of those units back to life?

Rev Meshoe noted that one of the key findings of the ISS report was that corruption remained a substantial problem in the SAPS. One could further easily argue that corruption had always been there even before restructuring started. Could it be conclusively said that corruption had increased as a result of restructuring?

Mr Burger replied they did not know whether corruption had increased since then and it was difficult to give an accurate answer to the question because the information given by the police was simply data in terms of the total number of suspensions. It did not indicate which of those had to do with corruption, save to say they would only specify that some were charged for violating the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. The figures were not regarded as credible because of what seemed to be a great deal of under-reporting.

Rev Meshoe said the ISS research found that there was a rise from 25% to 62% of people who felt unsafe to live in South Africa. Further morale levels were reported to be very low. Could all those dilemmas be attributed to restructuring or there were many other contributing factors such as discipline that may have played a role?

Mr Burger replied it was possible to connect people’s perceptions on crime, restructuring and the increase of certain crimes such as trio crimes, but that could not be said with absolute certainty.

The Chairperson asked for further reasons leading to the increase of the so-called “trio crimes”. It could not be a genuine belief that restructuring was the only contributing factor to the escalation of those crimes.

Mr Burger replied it could not be said with certainty that all the problems identified in the report were attributed to restructuring. What the report suggested however was that over the past nine years, the Police, in their quest to be more effective, had expanded in numbers by adding 70 000 members. The budget of the police also increased significantly and the police-public ratio could be compared with the best in the world. The intention of the restructuring exercise was good - to make the Police more effective and efficient! The critical question however remained unanswered: “Effective and efficient to do what?” The answer would be to have a huge impact on crimes such as aggravated robbery. That however was not reflected in the numbers. Instead, those crimes increased and the report simply suggested that what was reflected in terms of crime trends, was not reflected in terms of Police intentions. Restructuring was done with the intention of doing the opposite of what was happening on the ground.

Mr Burger added that another observation which they had made was that due to restructuring and disbanding of certain specialised units, the department lost the capacity to produce skilled detectives and more so, some of the experts had got fed up and resigned as they felt disillusioned with the changes that were taking place. Other top investigators got promoted and there was no machinery to continue producing those skills because the restructuring did not make that possible. Uncertainty, low morale and poor discipline became the order of the day.

Rev Meshoe asked Mr Burger to shed light on which countries he was referring to when he mentioned that South Africa was “out of step with comparable countries in shifting away from specialised services”

Mr Burger replied not enough comparison with other countries had been done but that was to be done during the second phase of the research which would be conducted with full cooperation from the SAPS.

Mr G Schneemann (ANC) also asked for more information regarding international comparison on the impact of the phasing out specialised services and restructuring. Mr Burger was asked to give his opinion on how piloting, if it had been done, would have helped in the restructuring process.

Ms A van Wyk (ANC) thanked the organisation for the presentation and remarked that as a Committee, they were aware of some of the problems which had been identified. Regarding the National Inspectorate, it was premature to suggest that the structure should be closed. Instead, it would be better if more resources and effort was channelled towards making sure that the Inspectorate worked efficiently because it function was needed and could not easily be done away with.

Mr H Chauke (ANC) doubted the accuracy of the report. Much of the information which formed the basis for the findings was obtained from ex-police officials, many of whom, as highlighted in the presentation, were disgruntled for various reasons. How much did the breakdown of the relationship between the ISS and the Department of Police, which led to denial of access to information and resources, contribute to the findings of the report? The negativity of the report was alarming, leading to a suspicion that perhaps the ISS had a vendetta against the Department of Police hence the nature and tone of the report.

The Chairperson asked for clarity as to the research methodology used in carrying out the survey. “Was it qualitative or was it quantitative?” The mere fact that access to information, files and personnel was denied surely must have compromised the research methodology in terms of both the targeted sample and it being adequately representative. Such may have had an impact on the findings and credibility of generalisations made in the report.

Ms Omar replied that the research conducted carried both qualitative and quantitative methodology in it.

Mr Burger replied that they had tried to speak to as wide an audience as possible, especially to currently serving members but that was not possible due to the relationship they had with SAPS senior management at the time. There was a range of information that was gathered from ex-SAPS and a few current serving members who took part on condition of anonymity. Efforts were made to deal with some of the negative comments, including omitting remarks which were deemed too damaging and that added no value to the objects of the research.

The Chairperson said what was clear to her was that there were flaws in the research and that Mr Burger himself conceded explicitly that the methodology used was weak. It was further worrying to hear the report that a lot of the negative sentiments from the pool of information gathered had been excluded. That act had a tendency to remove objectivity and replacing it with a lot of subjectivity. The fact that now there was another piece of research being conducted, with the cooperation of the SAPS was good news and the Committee could not wait to receive information based on the outcome of credible research methodology.

Mr Chauke added that since relations with SAPS had improved, perhaps it would be wise to wait for the conclusions and outcomes of the current, ongoing research because not much credibility could be placed on the one-sided outcome of the crippled research. The Committee engaged with the department on regular occasions and there was no doubt that over the past year, things had changed and police morale was improving every day. It was important to give praise where it was due rather than to rubbish everything, even the positives that were there for everybody to see. Such if allowed, would strike at the heart of the morale of the Police.

Mr Schneemann said it was unfortunate that the information about the research methodology and problems with SAPS, which had since improved, came to the attention of the Committee very late otherwise it would have been unwise to proceed with the meeting knowing fully the shortcomings of the research as exposed in the meeting. He seconded Mr Chauke that there were many positive things taking place and none of those seemed to be acknowledged in the report. They saw those positive things when doing oversight.

Ms Kohler-Barnard expressed regret at the attitude of the Committee. She was very embarrassed that Mr Burger’s presentation had been downplayed in the manner that it was by the Committee. It was public knowledge that the ISS was a quality organisation, with renowned researchers of Dr Burger’s calibre and it was not fair to be treated in the manner done. The units which had been unjustifiably disbanded were not apartheid era remnants as they were set up post 1994. They had proven to be successful especially when one looked back and compared to what was there now.

After some disorder erupted, a point of order was called by Mr Chauke and allowed to stand by the Chairperson, who asked members to be more civil in their interaction with one another after several members from the African National Congress were not pleased by remarks made by Ms Kohler-Barnard.

Dr Burger reiterated that he had not meant to suggest to the Committee that restructuring was responsible for all the problems identified. It was possible that there were many other factors but the underlying proposition was that whatever the other factors might have been, restructuring if it were done properly, with the care and sensitivity that it deserved, would have realised efficiency and effectiveness but that never happened.

The Chairperson concluded by suggesting that Dr Burger and his team should go back and do an in-depth study of the impact of restructuring. The Committee had a keen interest in getting an objectively, well researched finding about the matter. The Committee was always open to render any sort of possible assistance in ensuring that the ISS had the means and environment to conduct its research.

Mr Burger thanked the Committee for the opportunity given and told the committee members that in as much as the ISS were critical of other organisations which they profiled, they too accepted criticism, especially such as that which came from the Committee, because it was nothing more than constructive criticism.

The Chairperson thanked Dr Burger on behalf of the Committee and said they were looking forward to having another interaction with the ISS in the near future for a full briefing.

The meeting was adjourned.


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