Institute for Security Studies on Review of Crime and Criminal Justice Performance: briefing

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16 April 2003
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


16 April 2003

Acting Chairperson:
Ms J Sosibo

Document handed out:
Institute for Security Studies, Criminal justice monitoring service: Review of criminal justice performance

The Institute for Security Studies questioned the use of recorded crime levels as an indicator of police performance and crime levels. Dropping murder numbers suggested that crime was decreasing since murder was a reliably reported crime. Detectives could not cope with their caseloads. People that dealt with the police had a much better impression of them than the general public. Public trust in the police and the complaints directorate was increasing.

Overall, only eight percent of cases resulted in conviction. However, one-third of serious cases result in conviction, with two-thirds of cases that reached court resulting in conviction. The number of finalised cases had increased. Outstanding cases had also increased but this was against a backdrop of a large increase in cases referred. People that dealt with prosecution services had a much better impression of them than the general public. The courts were the bottleneck in the justice system. An increase in the use of plea bargains could greatly help the backlog.

Prisons were overcrowded with 185 000 prisoners in prisons with 110 000 places. Rehabilitation was a focus but needed greater funding. Non-custodial sentences and early release for non-violent and non-sexual crimes should be considered. Corruption was being dealt with. Overall, the department's performance was positive.

The Committee asked about alternative measures to recorded crime and arrest rates, public satisfaction with service, police morale and the effects of Resolution 7, dealing with overcrowding, and victim compensation.

Briefing by Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Criminal Justice Monitoring service

Mr T Leggett (Senior Researcher, Crime and Justice Programme) outlined the role of the Criminal Justice Monitoring service: to simplify crime information for easy access and understanding, to look at the performance of the criminal justice system, to consider the context of criminal justice work: budgets, capacity and workload, to develop indicators of capacity, workload and performance, and to assist in improving operations.

Reported crime had increased significantly in the Western Cape. Interestingly, crime levels were lowest in those provinces with the highest unemployment and greatest wealth differential. This suggested that the common perception that unemployment, poverty and large wealth differences cause crime was wrong.

The Department promised to reduce recorded crime: by end 2003, to 'stabilise' recorded crime in 145 station areas producing 50% of South Africa's crime (Operation Crackdown).

What was achieved?

The latest available information was for 2001 to the first quarter of 2002. This showed a levelling off in recorded crime. Based on this, the SAPS (South African Police Service) claimed that crime had stabilised in line with its promise. However, the figures for 2001/2 could not properly be compared with the 2000/1 figures since there had been a change in the classification of crimes. Crime was down in cases of crimes that were reliably reported, such as murder, vehicle theft, and assault GBH. It may thus be that the increase in reported crime reflected an increase in reporting crime due to greater trust in the police rather than an increase in crime levels. Recorded crime was not necessarily a good indicator of crime levels.

SAPS used civilians to try to get police officers away from their desks. This might not be as good as it sounded since police officers that had been desk-bound for years might not work well in other capacities. South Africa compared well with other countries in its ratio of police officers to citizens. However, only a small percentage of officers were on the streets. This was because SAPS played many roles other than law enforcement: guarding courts, stamping affidavits, and so on. This would usually be done by other bodies in other countries.

Although the overall figures suggested a good officer to crime ratio (at 31 recorded crimes per officer per year), the reality was one of detectives so swamped with cases that they were limited to crisis management in dealing with cases. SAPS planned to increase officer numbers by 40 500 by 2005. Problems might be less a matter of numbers than distribution and training. It was thus worrying that academy time had been reduced. Proper mentoring was needed. New recruits were often seen as the saving grace and ended up in situations beyond their experience.

Performance was hard to judge since the reports were not clear. However, murder had been coming down since 1994. As a reliably reported crime, this pointed to a reduction in crime levels, though it was not clear if this is due to the SAPS or social stabilisation. There was a lack of information in the 145 stations targeted by Operation Crackdown. So, it was not clear if the operation was simply dampening and displacing crime, which would return when the operation ended, or bringing about an actual long-term reduction. Further, greater arrest numbers need not result in greater prosecution numbers. Crimes against women and children were regarded as 'less policeable', which was a matter for concern. There was still not anti-rape strategy.

Exit polls indicated that people that dealt with the police had a good impression of the service they received. People that had not dealt with the police had a very poor impression of police service. Complaints about the police were at a stable level. Although it might seem that a reduction would be a good indicator, an increase in complaints would indicate growing confidence in the Independent Complaints Directorate.

The decrease in the number of deaths of suspects was good. Experience showed that with better training, less force was needed for police work.

Resolution 7 and detective restructuring might be lowering morale. Police officers feared being moved to unfamiliar stations. More thought should be put into this.

AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) had cut down the time needed to process fingerprints, but it was not clear was effect this has had.

Issues to watch in the coming year included: training, sector policing and deployment of new recruits, Resolution 7 and detective restructuring, AFIS and the Integrated Justice System (IJS) and the implementation of the Firearms, Domestic Violence, Child Justice, and Sexual Offences Acts.

Justice and Constitutional Development
Mr M Schönteich (Senior Researcher) briefed the Committee.The Department promised to: decrease the case backlog in courts, reduce the average length of trials, increase the number of finalised trials, increase the number of court hours, increase the number of completed asset forfeiture cases, increase satisfaction of court users.

What was achieved?

The Department received a 17% increase in funding. Funding for the National Prosecuting Authority was increased by 31% and for the Scorpions by 30%. Only 50% of the budget was spent on personnel expenditure - this was low partly because senior management posts had been left vacant.

There was a 26% increase in cases referred in 2000/1 and a 47% increase in 2001/2. There were 182 thousand uncompleted cases at the end of 2000 and 2001, 200 thousand cases at the end of 2002, 358 thousand prosecutions in 2001 and 403 thousand in 2002 (a 12% increase). Significantly, there were 9 900 diversions in 2002 - these were cases where people admitted guilt and a trial was avoided.

In 2000, about a third of serious cases resulted in conviction (more recent figures are unavailable). The increase in cases was due to Operation Crackdown - the prosecuting services reacted by withdrawing more cases. About two-thirds to three-quarters of cases that were prosecuted in court result in convictions. Getting the case to court was a problem though - only about eight percent of reported cases result in conviction.

The increase in outstanding cases was due to the increase in the number of cases, so this need not be seen as a failure especially since finalised cases had also increased. However, courts remained a bottleneck in the justice system. Plea bargaining legislation had been in place for about a year, with only about twelve cases settled by plea bargain. An increase in the use of plea bargains could greatly help the backlog.

Correctional Services
Mr M Sekhonyane (Senior Researcher) briefed the Committee. The Department promised to: focus on rehabilitation, reduce over-crowding, build new prisons - unit management, promote the appropriate use of community corrections and parole, promote good governance and combat corruption, complete the White Paper process, and implement the HIV/AIDS policy.

What was achieved?
For effective rehabilitation, the Department would have to reduce over-crowding. There were 241 prisons, designed to hold 110 000 inmates holding 185 000 inmates. The ratio of correctional services personnel to prisoners was in line with international standards, but prisons were poorly set up. Deaths by natural causes had increased by 600% since 1995 from one per 100 000 to seven per 100 000 prisoners. Escapes from custody had decreased, as had assaults and unnatural deaths, though figures on assault were unreliable. The Department had gone a long way in fighting corruption. There was a need to build prisons quickly or to look into appropriate alternative sentencing. The Department could not meet demand by building prisons itself. Overall, the performance was positive.

The policy focus on rehabilitation was gaining momentum, which was positive. However, the budget for rehabilitation needed to be increased. Magistrates needed to be creative in sentencing people and look into non-custodial sentencing where appropriate.

Ms A van Wyk (ANC) noted that the presentation had fiercely criticised using recorded crime as a performance indicator. Did the presenter have an alternative suggestion? Could ISS give information on tools for performance measures?

Mr Leggett replied that the ISS did not see themselves as opposed to the SAPS, but worked with them. The police see themselves as under tremendous pressure and defended themselves vigorously, which could lead to misrepresentation. Crime had probably decreased since murder levels, which were reliably reported, had come down. SAPS did what it knew how to do and this meant operations such as Operation Crackdown. ISS were trying to nudge them towards a more nuanced approach, away from arrests and seizures. Alternative reporting could help in this. Alternatives were not complicated - indicators could be derived from current figures. For example: referral rate to court was a good indicator of detective performance, as was the rate of cases found to be baseless. Withdrawal of cases was a bad indicator since it could mean a range of things from poor detective work to witnesses losing interest to complainants changing their minds. There was a range of things that could be looked at, the current statistics simply needed to be disaggregated. Crime prevention was not a police function - they were trained for law enforcement - it was a social engineering project. SAPS did not have this competency. They should be judged on law enforcement.

Mr Schönteich added that research had been done on underlying reasons for crime. Age is the best correlate, with a high crime rate amongst young men aged between fifteen and twenty-five. Crime levels were probably down in the EU and US because the population is ageing. South Africa has a high number of young people. So, recorded crime may reflect this rather than police performance. It can be tricky to rate performance based on promises made since these are often vague, so it can be difficult to evaluate. For example, the backlog of cases has increased but this is in the context of more cases so it may not be a bad indicator.

Ms Van Wyk stated that she had asked the Minister for Correctional Services about community parole and figures for repeat offenders. Such figures are not available. Is this not a weakness in the system? Should repeat offenders not be dealt with separately, especially since they are likely to mentor young and first time prisoners into crime?

Mr Sekhonyane replied that statistics on repeat offenders are needed. ISS was doing a joint national study on recidivism, which should be complete by the end of the year.

Ms Van Wyk noted that prosecutors complained about police work and vice versa. What should the relationship be? Should prosecutors work with detectives throughout cases?

Mr Schönteich replied that it made sense to form prosecutor-detective teams for intricate and sophisticated crimes. The Scorpions' model of prosecutor-led investigation was good. However, given the number of cases this model cannot be used in all cases. The differentiation between the work of the police and of the prosecutors was vague, so they could easily blame one another. The differentiation needed to be made more precise.

Mr Leggett added that interconnections between the services were poor - there was a huge disconnection. They categorised disposed cases differently, speaking a different language, and viewed one another with suspicion.

Mr E Ferreira (IFP) stated that the Government deserved credit for investing in the criminal justice system but did not appear to be getting a good return on the investment. He got the impression that the police management were trying to please politicians but were simply 'moving the deck chairs on the Titanic'. He had reported a case and had no reaction in 33 days. The police sometimes inflated threats to give themselves an opportunity to look good. He cited the example of the Boeremag, which he did not think was as serious as was made out.

Mr Schönteich replied that one tended to see diminishing returns as one added people. Further, international experience showed that for every ten police officers hired, only one was on the streets because of shifts and other factors. It was hard to say if the police played up threats because the media were so sensationalist about crime. In the case of the Boeremag, the police had initially underestimated the threat and only took it seriously with the bombing, which was then sensationalised by the media.

Mr Leggett added that a mistake had been made in promising rapid change - this was unrealistic. Tactical mistakes were made to fulfil promises, such as employing more police rapidly without training and mentoring. It was better to move slowly and give the police time to step back and think. The police are desperate to look good and boost the seriousness of certain threats, such as drugs. For example, a study that found that murder and rape suspects were less likely than the general arrestee to be on drugs was misrepresented in statements that drugs lead to violent crime. Detectives do triage on cases. They often dealt with whomever yells the loudest. Their caseloads were too heavy to do anything other than crisis management.

An ANC member asked if there was much information exchange between Pretoria and local and provincial police services? On which figures was ISS research based?

Mr Q Kgauwe (ANC) wondered how reliable the ISS investigations were. He had listened to a radio talk show on the matter and the majority phoning in were white, well educated people. Black people were unable to phone in but one ended up having to use such information.

Mr Leggett replied that, in addition to using figures from head office, research was conducted by going out with police to see what they do. They found that the SAPS had many excellent officers but also many bad ones - the police service needed to be able to fire bad officers.

Mr Schönteich added that they looked at the bigger picture using data from head office but also selected individual stations, courts and prisons for a local view. They had focussed on the high level statistics to give an overview and because of time constraints.

An ANC member asked about the satisfaction rate of citizens. Did they think we are turning the corner?

Mr Schönteich replied that ISS had done surveys on satisfaction for police and prosecution services. Exit polls showed that people that dealt with police and prosecution were more positive than the general public. This could be because of low expectations and there was room for improvement but people tend to be fairly satisfied.

Ms M Molebatsi (ANC) stated that she thought arrest and seizure figures were a good indicator of police performance. Why should they not be regarded as such?

Mr Leggett replied that arrests and seizures showed that the police were doing something, but this might not have a socially useful function. So it was a mixed indicator. International experience showed that if one emphasized arrests, one ended up with many questionable arrests. For example, in domestic violence cases, if the aim was fewer filed cases then police sent to the scene would tend to discourage filing a case against the violent spouse or partner, while if arrests were favoured, they tended to arrest the violent spouse or partner whatever the victim says. The arrest might serve no function if the victim was not prepared to support the case.

Ms Molebatsi asked why the stable numbers of misconduct complaints should not be seen as a good thing.

Mr Leggett replied that he did not see the stable number of complaints as a bad thing. He had simply pointed out that an increase in complaints would be a welcome sign that the public trusted the complaints directorate.

Ms Molebatsi asked what could be done in place of Resolution 7. It seemed a good idea.

Mr Leggett replied that Resolution 7 might be necessary but had created job insecurity because of fears of sudden transfer. It appeared that people were transferred to meet representivity targets and ended up in stations where they did not know the local language and so were useless.

Mr J Schippers (NNP) asked to what extent the ISS liased with the analysis centre.

Mr Leggett replied that the ISS worked with the CIC in the past but that there was great concern about releasing statistics. This was understandable since crime statistics had damaged tourism and investment. It was important that the statistics be correct. The message needed to get out that the increase was probably an increasing in reporting rather than an increase in crime.

Mr Schippers asked what input ISS research had on police performance and policies.

Mr Leggett replied that the ISS tried to have an impact on policy.

Mr Schippers asked if the ISS had done research on victim compensation.

Mr Schönteich replied that the South African Law Commission had investigated this. The ISS had been involved on the sidelines to give an idea of the likely costs. Treasury was not enthusiastic about the idea since it could prove expensive. However, money gained by the asset forfeiture unit might be used for compensation. Currently such funds were limited to a few million rands and were put into the criminal justice system. Projections suggested that in future there would be hundreds of millions of rands available and this could be used for compensation.

Adv P Swart (DA) asked if the statistics could properly be compared with the changes that had been made. Do we need to wait for the second round of statistics under the new system?

Mr Leggett replied that even with the second round of statistics it could prove difficult to compare.

Adv Swart questioned the use of murder as a crime indicator since he had heard that 80-90% of murder was 'domestic'.

Mr Leggett replied that he was not sure what other indicators could be used. The report finding the figure of 80% of murders being 'domestic' had not been released so he could not comment on it. He was concerned that this view may lead to the murders being seen as unpoliceable and this would be unfortunate.

Mr A Maziya (ANC) stated that he expected that when the Committee met with the ISS, they would be capacitated to deal with the police and other services. He was not happy with the report.

Mr Leggett replied that the presentation might be lacking because it was a review given under time constraints. There had been no time to pursue recommendations.

Mr Maziya stated that nothing had been said about detectives. Were they treated well? Were they motivated? Detectives were the 'nerve centre' of backlogs. Cases were delayed because of poor investigations. Did we have poor detectives or were they simply unmotivated?

Mr Leggett replied that detective work was very important. However, caseloads were impossibly heavy. Detectives were hard working but were defeated by the weight of cases.

Mr Maziya returned to Resolution 7. When he had visited police stations he had come across Zulu dominated stations where statements were taken in Afrikaans and this was the language used in the station. What are Resolution 7's good points? What has to be done to implement it properly?

Adv Swart noted that fewer than 2 000 of 130 000 police officers were moved under Resolution 7 and restructuring. Would such limited moves have a demoralising effect? Was this not just media hype? Language proficiency is a concern though - the National Deputy Commissioner had said that language skills were not looked at when reassigning officers.

Mr Leggett replied that he had only recently encountered Resolution 7 and then only in comments from police officers. He had highlighted it as something that he would watch in the future. Reading the policy, the goal appeared to be to achieve national representivity at local stations, which was a mistake. He had encountered white police officers in Gugulethu that could not speak Xhosa and black police officers in Mannenberg that could not speak Afrikaans. These transfers were to achieve representivity in terms of Resolution 7. He did not know about the small size of the deployment. However, morale was built on myth. Better communication was needed on this.

Mr Maziya asked what the difference was between violence against property and property crime.

Mr Leggett replied that violence against property included malicious damage and arson.

Mr Maziya noted that there was no in-depth report on facilities for crimes against women and children. Were there recommendations to improve the Child Protection Unit?

Mr Leggett replied that they had not had time to go into this in the presentation.

Mr Maziya noted that one always heard about overcrowding in prisons. Awaiting trial prisoners were more crowded than sentenced prisoners. When he had interviewed prisoners, he had encountered people waiting for trial for more than a year. Some claimed not to know why they were there. The onus was on the justice system to process cases. How should it deal with awaiting trial prisoners? What was the problem?

Mr Sekhonyane replied that it was all very well to crack down but one needed to consider the effects of this on overcrowded prisons. Magistrates needed to be innovative and apply non-custodial sentences more often. Early release for non-violent and non-sexual offences should be considered. There was a proposal that people with bail set below R1000 be released, depending on the crime for which they were arrested. Building prisons was not an answer since this was very expensive and time-consuming. Private prisons could be built faster, but was this the way to go?

Ms M Sotyu (ANC) stated that if one looked at the rate of arrests, it seemed the police were on track. Had there been an increase or decrease in crime?

Mr Leggett said that he could not say for certain if there had been an increase or decrease in crime. The ISS was going to do a national survey of victims to get an idea of crime levels. Rates of arrest indicate that police were doing work. However, police had discretion in arrests. Operation Crackdown appeared to arrest people for non-priority crimes. This led to a high withdrawal rate, including cases where the prosecuting authority did not take cases because it would serve no social function to do so. A sophisticated analysis was needed.

Ms Sotyu asked how long prisons that had been temporarily closed would remain closed.

Mr Sekhonyane replied that such prisons were closed for a period of three months to a year. This was often for refurbishment and prisoners were transferred in cycles as each prison was refurbished.

The meeting was adjourned.


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