South Africa: Viewfinder Responds to Robert McBride

18 October 2019

McBride's critique of our exposé was surprising. He is on record agreeing with some of our article's most important takeaways.

Robert McBride wrote an article in the Daily Maverick criticising Viewfinder's exposé titled "IPID's cover-up of police brutality in SA". This is Viewfinder's response.

On 11 April 2019 McBride, IPID's former director, told the Zondo Commission of Inquiry that the police watchdog had prematurely closed and completed cases to inflate performance statistics during his suspension. Such statistical manipulation would have amounted to obstruction of justice for likely thousands of victims of violent crimes by police officers.

McBride's revelation inspired us to dedicate more time and energy to an ongoing investigation which culminated in the publication of our exposé on 7 October. Our investigation vindicated McBride's report, as well as those of other IPID employees who had spoken out against the practice long before.

Our exposé also gave a platform to many of McBride and IPID management's talking points of the last few years:

IPID is under-resourced. It does not have the capacity or reach to handle its massive caseload.

IPID investigators are often undermined by the police (even as they rely on SAPS for forensic and other expertise) and state prosecutors (upon whom they rely to prosecute suspects).

IPID's quantitative "completion" target, by which performance is measured, is a poor way to measure the watchdog's performance and impact. (During his tenure and afterwards, McBride has emphasised his preference for "high impact" investigations over the doldrum of pushing numbers through the case management system.)

McBride's critique of our exposé was therefore surprising. He is on record agreeing with some of our article's most important takeaways. His response does not contest a single fact that we reported. Yet, he attempts to characterise Viewfinder's investigation as a "hatchet job" against himself and IPID's investigators. On the contrary, our investigation shows the dangers of IPID being under-resourced.

Response to specific criticisms

McBride dedicates a substantial part of his response to discrediting IPID's former Ethics Manager Amar Maharaj.

The source material, quoted extensively in our report, shows that Maharaj was IPID's most consistent voice speaking out against premature case closure. We have learnt that Maharaj was suspended and then dismissed by IPID after breaking rank with management and airing the allegations publicly at the Moerane Commission of Inquiry in August 2017.

In any case, our article relies on several whistleblowers, who raised the alarm over statistical manipulation at some of IPID's provincial offices in 2014 and 2016. McBride contests none of this. In fact, as shown in our report and new revelations from last week, he added weight to them on various occasions. (Whatever other animosity or disagreement exists between McBride and Maharaj is inconsequential to that fact.)

McBride, citing IPID national head of investigations Matthews Sesoko, says that there is "no irregularity" in the fact that IPID's provincial level managers worked late into the night on the last day of the 2015/16 financial year to update the case management system with hundreds of case completions.

We did not report that this was an "irregularity" or contravention of procedure. Our report proposed that the timing of this big push to update cases to "complete" or "decision ready" was significant. As a Viewfinder data-analysis subsequently showed, the timing of big case "completion" pushes on the case management system correlates to the deadlines for the reporting of performance statistics. This is significant when read against the backdrop of McBride's and other whistleblower reports that cases were rushed through to completion in a bid to inflate performance statistics.

During an interview with Viewfinder, Sesoko himself characterised former IPID director Israel Kgamanyane's alleged order that performance statistics be inflated as an order to "push" completion.

McBride and IPID management have insinuated that Viewfinder's findings are rooted in a misunderstanding of IPID's investigative-, data management- and reporting processes.

The standard operating procedures, regulations and legislation which govern IPID's processes are public documents accessible here, here and here. Viewfinder has analysed these documents and can attest that they are not beyond the comprehension of laypeople. We hyperlinked to these documents in our report. In not one of those instances has McBride or IPID contested Viewfinder's specific interpretation of procedure.

McBride says that Viewfinder omitted important facts:

1. IPID has helped secure many disciplinary convictions against police officers.

The vast majority of IPID cases relate to criminal complaints and standard operating procedure requires that they be sent to prosecutors for a decision. It is true that these same cases may be referred to SAPS for decision on whether to discipline police officers. We intend to publish an article on these disciplinary referrals and outcomes in due course.

2. Many IPID cases are still on the court-roll and a response from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is outstanding on many other referred cases.

McBride correctly notes that the securing of criminal convictions is the responsibility of the NPA. Nothing in our report contradicts that. The intake-to-conviction ratio quoted in our report includes convictions of cases taken in by IPID's predecessor, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), prior to 1 April 2012. Therefore, from the available data, the intake-to-conviction ratio we quoted accounts for the fact that some cases may take a number of months or years to be concluded in court.

3. Some of IPID's workload post-2012 included carry-over and backlog cases from the ICD, the majority of which were "misconduct" cases and it was therefore misleading to characterise IPID's workload as "police brutality" cases.

We have done a provisional data analysis of the backlog and carry-over of ICD cases into the IPID period. From our initial reading, a significant proportion of these cases were indeed related to police brutality. We'll publish our findings in due course.

McBride's reckoning with statistical manipulation at the IPID

Our report leads the reader to question whether IPID management -- including McBride -- did enough to act on whistleblower reports of premature case closures from 2012, 2014 and 2016. These are the facts:

McBride instituted an investigation into the 2016 allegations, but that investigation was still incomplete after nearly three years.

IPID management assured Viewfinder that it had addressed the manipulation of statistics through ongoing inspections of dockets and "policy level" amendments to Standard Operating Procedures. IPID did, however, not respond to a request for more information about what these inspections and amendments entailed.

Neither IPID management nor McBride adequately addressed Viewfinder's queries about whether management acted on the 2014 site visit reports, which contained whistleblower allegations of statistical manipulation at three provinces.

On this final point, McBride has now circulated a directive that his office issued in October 2014. The directive read:

"It has come to the attention of the Executive Director that there have been instances where incorrect data has been submitted ... The generation of statistical information must always be dealt with diligence to ensure the integrity of our statistical information ... Managers must ensure that the quality of investigation is not compromised in pursuit of pushing numbers/targets, as this may lead to defeating the ends of justice."

Had we been given access to it, Viewfinder would have included this directive in our report and the cache of primary source documents to which it hyperlinked. McBride had an opportunity to send it to us well before publication when we asked him, via text message, on 27 September 2019: "IPID investigators did report in 2014 that stats were manipulated. Did these register with you and did you do anything?"

Viewfinder was proactive about obtaining access to such directives - as we knew they were important to understanding IPID's operations and management's priorities from 2012 to present. Yet, IPID denied our Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request on the matter.

IPID also established an Integrity Strengthening Unit (ISU), McBride wrote in his response, to monitor the integrity of dockets post the 2014 whistleblower reports.

McBride's 2014 directive and the establishment of the ISU demonstrates two things: (1) IPID management had knowledge that the practice of statistical manipulation was systemic, and not only confined to the period of McBride's suspension. (2) McBride, to his credit, took steps to address it in 2014. Any chance that McBride and his management team had to enforce this directive and the ISU's mandate was cut short by his suspension in early 2015. By all accounts, including McBride's, statistical manipulation was ramped up to higher levels during the 18 months of his suspension.

It was only after Viewfinder's article last week, that IPID management committed to finally publish its report on the allegations of statistical manipulation during McBride's suspension.

Progress

McBride and IPID's response last week failed to recognise that our report highlighted the institution's need for more funding and support to execute its mandate. This point was not lost on others:

The DA shadow minister for police, Andrew Whitfield, last week made a call for creative solutions to be found to IPID's funding woes.

The African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) said that our report "cast a light on the importance and the vulnerability" of IPID. APCOF has scheduled a round table for 22 October to "discuss IPID and broader challenges related to its current modelling and performance".

This is the kind of constructive dialogue and reckoning with IPID's role, importance and challenges that Viewfinder's report hoped to inspire. McBride and IPID's current management remain critical voices in that discussion.

This article was produced by Viewfinder in partnership with GroundUp and Daily Maverick.

More about Viewfinder

Police watchdog: report on statistical manipulation allegations due next week 10 October 2019

IPID scrambles to contain fall-out ahead of Parliament appearance 10 October 2019

Month's end at IPID: A time for "killing files"? 08 October 2019

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