Meeting with Outgoing & Incoming Police Commissioners

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09 November 1999
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

9 November 1999

Incoming Commissioner Selebi asked the Committee to consider the following difficulties in reducing crime levels in South Africa:
· 180 000 people are presently being detained in police cells. This obviously eats up large chunks of the SAPS budget;
· We cannot hope to tackle crime effectively with the present number of SAPS. 80 000 officers are engaged in combating crime in a country with a population exceeding 43 million. This is unacceptable;
· A large number of the police force do little or no actual policing, instead they carry out administrative tasks which are more appropriate for civilians. Having large numbers of police officers carrying out administrative tasks contradicts the policy objective of 'visible policing'- 'visible policing' involving the deterrence of crime by placing more officers on the streets;
· The available resources that do exist are (and for a long time have been) over-concentrated in the most prosperous areas. By contrast, the greatest level of crime is to be found in the poorest areas. We therefore need to distribute policing resources in such a way as to favour the most impoverished areas;
· The small number of South African police involved in corruption needs to be dealt with. The majority of police are not involved in corruption. Swift and decisive action should be taken against the "small number" who are.
· The new domestic violence legislation is illustrative of a general tendency to expect the police to solve society's problems. Although the police are there to solve crime, they cannot be expected to deal with problems such as domestic violence single-handedly. Other organisations (such as churches and schools) must join the fight against this type of crime.
· Top of SAPS priorities is combating violent crime. Again the police cannot do this in isolation. Tackling violent crime will continue be an uphill battle unless, for example, the media stops "glorifying" violent criminals as "heroes". We need to deal with violent crime harshly, but not by violating the constitutional and human rights of individuals. It is possible to do this by improving the effectiveness of the justice system as a whole.

In spite of all of the above, Selebi believes that the "battle against crime" can be won. We should not wait until August next year, as results can be achieved by April. He plans to report back to the Committee with results by this time.

Members from each party then praised Selebi's ability and credentials and wished him well.

The Chairperson introduced outgoing Commissioner Fivaz who has been commissioner since 1994. He noted that uniting eleven police forces had not been an easy task, and the "us" and "them" mentality could still be found in parts of the country but that Commissioner Fivaz had done a very good job.

Commissioner Fivaz thanked the Chairperson, saying that it had been a great privilege to serve as the first SAPS Commissioner. He said that success had been achieved in creating a new national structure of law enforcement, and they must now move on to the second part of the transitional phase - that being, to create and maintain a more effective police service. This next phase will require a person capable of carrying out his duties in a balanced and non-political manner. He was confident that the choice of Selebi will prove to be the right one in this regard.

He also said that he was confident about the newly transformed police service. Whilst some "old wood" still needed to be replaced with "new wood", he said that he had great confidence in the new Divisional and Provincial Commissioners (although appointments were still being made for the latter). The capacity of SAPS to fight crime was also improving, but three major obstacles remained:
· Serious budgetary constraints, affecting both the quantity and quality of policing. These must be met if SAPS is to build on the achievements of the transformation. The police can only fight a serious crime situation with a serious level of resources;
· A lack of support from the rest of the criminal justice system. Serious blockages and deficiencies within the justice system meant that - even if the police can successfully detect criminals - there is no guarantee that they will remain in custody. Prison escapes, overcrowded prisons and procedural mistakes by poorly trained and equipped prosecutors are but three examples;
· The root causes of crime remain. Economic and environmental conditions in many places in South Africa are breeding grounds for crime. There is little running water, let alone any kind of employment or leisure facilities. Places like Kwa-mashu (near Durban), are one of many possible examples. There is little prospect of the police being able to reduce crime until conditions in such areas are improved.

Commissioner Fivaz stressed that he had not said (as he had been wrongly quoted in the newspapers) that crime cannot be reduced. What he actually said was that crime cannot be reduced until the rest of the justice system (the courts and prisons) is improved and until steps are taken to address the root causes of crime (such as social division and inequality).

The meeting was adjourned.


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