Highest crime areas have fewest cops - Khayelitsha commission

Members of civil society at the presentation of the findings of the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Daneel Knoetze

26 August 2014

Police stations in the parts of Cape Town which bore the brunt of apartheid are the most seriously understaffed, the Commission of Inquiry into Policing in Khayelitsha found.

For example, Harare, Khayelitsha, has the lowest police-to-population-ratio in the province, at 111 police per 100,000 residents.

In its final report released on 25 August the commission said these anomalises have to change “as a matter of urgency”.

“The Commission has concluded that the system of human resource allocation used by the South African Police Service has resulted in two of the Khayelitsha police stations (Harare and Khayelitsha Site B) being significantly understaffed.

“An examination of the allocations to all police stations in the Western Cape, calculating police personnel per capita and in the light of reported crime rates, suggest that the ten most understaffed police stations are Nyanga, Kraaifontein, Gugulethu, Mfuleni, Grassy Park, Kleinvlei, Delft, Lwandle and these two Khayelitsha police stations.

“This research suggests that the residents of the poorest areas of Cape Town that bore the brunt of apartheid are still woefully under-policed twenty years into our new democracy and are often the police stations with the highest levels of serious contact crime. This pattern needs to change as a matter of urgency,” the commission said.

The commissioners found that the problem lay with the police’s “Theoretical Human Resources Requirement” (THRR) – a complex and secretive system for establishing how staff are allocated across policing clusters and stations. In theory, the system looks at reported crime rates and environmental factors that facilitate or impede effective policing, the report explains.

“The police could provide no explanation why police stations that have very high crime rates have the lowest police to population ratios in the province,” said commissioner Kate O’Regan while presenting the findings.

“a systematic bias against poor areas, particularly those inhabited by African and Coloured people”

She said the system appeared “to display a systematic bias against poor areas, particularly those inhabited by African and Coloured people.”

The commission recommended that the system should be “overhauled as a matter of urgency”. The Minister of Police should ask the National Commissioner to set up a task team to investigate shortcomings in personnel allocation and a new system should be subject to oversight by the Civilian Secretariat and Provincial Government.

Meanwhile, the commission said, staffing shortages in Khayelitsha should be immediately rectified. Specifically, police officers attached to Khayelitsha but deployed elsewhere should return or be replaced.

Overburdened staff was one of the main factors in the commission’s conclusion that “detective work in Khayelitsha is very poor”. Several detectives brought before the commission testified that they were overworked.

“You know in the movies … you see a team of detectives descending to a crime scene (and) attending to a docket,” said Brigadier Zithulele Dladla, Khayelitsha Site B station commander.“ Here in Khayelitsha you have a team of dockets descending on a detective!”

Many detectives were working between 150 and 200 dockets each. This is three to four times more than the manageable amount of 50 dockets per detective, according to Jan Swart, a former detective and unit commander who testified during the commission’s second phase.

“In the movies you see a team of detectives descending to a crime scene and attending to a docket. Here in Khayelitsha you have a team of dockets descending on a detective!”

Inequalities in policing are deepened by the proliferation of private security companies in wealthier areas. Dladla illustrated this by comparing his station, Site B, with that of one of Cape Town’s middle-class suburbs, Wynberg. The private security that middle class residents could afford alleviated the burden on the police and assisted the police in performing its duties.

Brigadier Leon Rabie, in his testimony, also revealed that in the present system, 5% is the maximum staff supplement provided to police stations in areas where there are informal dwellings, even if 50% of the residents of the area live in such settlements, as is the case in Khayelitsha Site B and Harare. This would mean that police stations in areas with large numbers of people in informal housing would tend to be under-policed, Rabie said.

The report also recommended that some human resources practices in Khayelitsha police stations be reviewed.

The police should be able to speak isiXhosa – the mother tongue of over 90 percent of Khayelitsha residents. Existing members should receive language training and new officers should be able to speak the language before being deployed in the area.

The commission said it was clear “from the painful testimony heard by the Commission” that members of SAPS in Khayelitsha “have not provided many of the residents of Khayelitsha with professional, respectful and efficient service.” It continued, “That is simply not acceptable. All inhabitants of South Africa are entitled to a police service that will protect and secure them.

“The task may be hard, but the obligation is clear”, the commissioners said.