By Anees Teladia
The allocation of criminal cases and human resources in the South African Police Service in the Western Cape is a serious cause for concern, with over 48 percent of detectives in the Western Cape carrying over 200 criminal dockets, according to a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). Many have come to question the use of deploying the army when the Western Cape’s main concerns surrounding the effectiveness of SAPS, remain unresolved.
In his State Of The Province Address last week, Premier Alan Winde said that in the Department of Community Safety’s oversight of 151 police stations, it was discovered that the Western Cape has a shortage of 548 detectives. Nearly half of the detectives in the province are said to have a caseload of 200 dockets or more, when the “norm” is between 50 and 60.
Further, it has been revealed that a shocking 57 percent of detective commanders have not undergone the requisite training and that 45.8 percent of detectives have not completed the Basic Detective Learning Programme.
According to the findings of the Western Cape government, detectives are also working without the necessary tools for the job. 71 percent do not have informers and more than half of the detectives do not even have a firearm.
Andrew Faull, a senior researcher in Justice and Violence Prevention at the ISS, says that the biggest challenge in SAPS relates to the workload of officers. Faull also explained that practically, not everyone can receive the same treatment from police services.
“The biggest challenge is workload versus resources. The Western Cape has suggested that 48 percent of detectives carry more than 200 dockets…[and] each docket could have two tasks to complete at any one time. It’s an immense workload,” said Faull.
“As such, it isn’t realistic to expect that every case be investigated to the same degree – this is true everywhere in the world. There’s a public myth around criminal justice, that every case gets investigated in the same way and that everyone deserves the exact same service, [but] practically that’s not possible.”
Faull also provided clarity on the distinction between uniformed officers and detectives and briefly explained the general procedure after a case is filed.
“Uniformed officers don’t do any investigations, that’s up to the detectives. Detectives (sometimes called investigators) are the ones responsible for following up on statements initially taken and they are responsible for taking the investigation forward. [However] that can involve doing very little – so if it’s clear from the statement that there are no witnesses and that evidence is unlikely to be discovered, they might choose to close it immediately or follow up with other people,” said Faull.
“Of course, if there’s a crime scene which requires forensic investigation, then ideally the uniformed officer secures the crime scene until a detective and forensic personnel arrive to gather information.”
Despite the problematic docket allocation for detectives in the Western Cape, Faull added that internationally, successful conviction rates are low and that even fewer convictions culminate in prison sentencing. He also explained that the problem of docket allocation cannot be resolved by simply hiring more detectives or by increasing the size of the police service.
“Even in the United Kingdom, only 2.2 percent of all crimes result in a criminal conviction and only 0.3 percent result in a prison sentence – that’s in a country where, to my understanding, detectives try not to carry more than 5 dockets at a time,” said Faull.
“We have very high crime society and we have a large police organisation already, so it isn’t a matter of simply hiring more detectives to dilute the case load. It might be about changing the systems so we more quickly relieve detectives of certain cases when we know that there’s very little to do on them. If a case can’t be pursued, then it should be closed immediately – potentially by an administrator – so detectives can focus on cases that are most likely to lead to arrest and successful conviction.”
“We should be focusing on cases that are most likely to be solved and on those which cause the most harm.”
A press release by Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz explained how vital the functions of detectives are in the police service and claimed a provincial shortage in that regard.
“Ultimately, Detectives are responsible for gathering evidence and facts for criminal cases. Their critical services include interviewing potential suspects, examining records and apprehending criminals. The quality of their work determines whether a case is solved or dropped,” reads the statement.
“At present, the Western Cape does not have enough detectives to investigate the spate of criminality and gangsterism in the province. There is a shortage of 548 detectives in the Western Cape and 142 posts currently remain vacant.”