GroundUp (Cape Town)

25 August 2014

South Africa: Commission Finds 'Serious Inefficiencies' in Khayelitsha Policing

The Commission of Inquiry into Policing in Khayelitsha has identified "serious, overlapping (policing) inefficiencies".

These include a lack of regular patrols, unanswered phones at police stations, poor detective work, wide-spread vigilante killings and policing based on "chance and luck" and not on "intelligence".

There has also been a breakdown in relations between the police and the community, the commission found.

Commissioners Kate O'Regan and Vusumzi Pikoli presented the report to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in Khayelitsha today. The findings were accompanied by comprehensive recommendations for the police in Khayelitsha and nationally.

Around 200 toyi-toying members of the Social Justice Coalition, Equal Education and Treatment Action Campaign marched on Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha in anticipation of the commission's findings.

It has been two years since the commission was established. But, it started work in earnest in October last year when a court application, challenging the powers and establishment of the commission, by then-Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa was dismissed in the Constitutional Court.

Since then the commission has heard oral evidence from 87 witnesses, received 170 written statements from complainants and studied 50,000 pages of documents from the police and other role-players.

Findings

The resulting final report is 580-pages long. O'Regan and Pikoli summarised the findings when handing over the report to the Premier of the Western Cape.

The commission found a lack of visible policing and regular patrols in Khayelitsha informal settlements, even though large numbers of people lived in those areas. Many witnesses also complained that telephones at Khayelitsha's three police stations regularly went unanswered and that, as a result, police often failed to respond to emergency calls.

Possibly as few as one percent of crimes resulted in convictions.

The commission also found that crime investigation work was seriously lacking in Khayelitsha. The proportion of crimes reported that result in convictions was very small ("possibly as few as one percent") the commission found. Part of the problem was that detectives often failed to hand case dockets over to the courts, resulting in cases being thrown out. Crime scenes were also not secured and managed properly, which impaired the gathering of forensic evidence.

The Family Offences Sexual Violence and Child Protection Unit (FCS) was described as "dysfunctional" and the "worst performing" such unit in the province.

Alcohol related interpersonal violence, violent youth gangs and vigilante attacks were all found to be widespread in Khayelitsha. There are 1,400 unlicensed taverns in Khayelitsha (as opposed to 35 licensed ones). In spite of this, there is no clear policy on policing unlicensed taverns.

Nor did the police have a clear policy for dealing with vigilante attacks - perpetrated by members of the community on suspected criminals.

The commission found that 75% of residents considered vigilante attacks to be "wrong". Yet, there was a culture of silence surrounding these attacks, making it difficult for police to find witnesses willing to identify the perpetrators. Such attacks, which often left a victim dead or seriously injured, was a disproportionate punishment for the crimes that victims were accused of committing (theft and housebreaking, for instance). The attacks also sometimes targeted innocent people.

A "difficult" area to police

The report attempts to explain why Khayelitsha was such a "difficult area to police". The historical legacy of apartheid, high levels of poverty, dense informal settlements (with a lack of access to sanitation, water and services) and accompanying high levels of crime (greater Khayelitsha has the highest murder rate in the country) were identified as primary reasons.

It also found that police stations in Khayelitsha were chronically understaffed (the area had one of the lowest police per residents ratios in the Western Cape). As a result, officers and detectives were overworked, with some detectives having as many as 200 open case dockets for investigation before them at any one time.

"(The police) could provide no explanation why police stations that have very high crime rates and extremely difficult policing environments have the lowest policing environment ratios," said O'Regan.

She added that the origins of this problem lay not in Khayelitsha per se, but with the police's national system for allocating human resources.

"(Its) design appears to display a systematic bias against poor areas, particularly those inhabited by African and Coloured people. The Commission notes that this problem has persisted partly because the (system) is not in the public domain and so is shielded from scrutiny."

As a result of police inefficiency in tackling crime, there is a breakdown in relations between the Khayelitsha community and police stationed in the area, the report found.

Recommendations

In presenting its key recommendations, the commission suggested that, firstly, each police station should adopt a Community Policing Commitment in consultation with members of the community. Through this, the police will publicly pledge that its members would, amongst other things, treat people with respect, undertake to respond to calls within specified times, increase visible policing and assert that vigilante attacks are criminal offences that would be dealt with.

Additionally, the police should establish an oversight and monitoring team to ensure that the identified inefficiencies are eradicated. To achieve this, the FCS unit and the cluster's three stations (Lingelethu West, Khayelitsha and Harare) should develop a three to five-year strategic plan, and conduct a strategic review of detective services.

Strategies to deal with unlicensed taverns, youth gangs and vigilante attacks should be established.

Improving the police's physical infrastructure, including the building of the Makhaza police station, should be prioritised.

Finally, the National Commissioner of Police police should review the police's human resource allocation system, in general.

"(The identified inefficiencies) do not mean that there are not many committed and diligent members of the police posted in Khayelitsha," said O'Regan.

"That there are such inefficiencies does not mean that there are not aspects of policing that are efficiently performed, nor that there are not members of (the police), of every rank, who strive to provide a professional policing service in Khayelitsha. It is important, in fairness, to acknowledge that there are members of (the police) who perform their duties daily in difficult circumstances in Khayelitsha."

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