Western Cape government believes devolution of policing to provinces is a no-brainer

Issued by Reagen Allen – Western Cape Minister of Police Oversight and Community Safety
21 Jul 2022 in News

Much like he sees tattoos, Minister of Police Bheki Cele sees devolution of policing as criminal. In fact, it is this level of change that is required to start producing the different results we need from our hamstrung and mismanaged crime-fighting resources.

Most of us know the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Unfortunately, management of the South African Police Service (SAPS), sitting up in Pretoria, has yet to catch on. For years, they have maintained the same outdated, unresponsive, unscientific policing practices. Meanwhile, the world has moved on, and so have our criminals – leaving them behind.

For our part, it would be insane to allow this to continue. The only way we’ll ever see an impactful SAPS is if changes are made, and these should be drastic and sweeping.

Much like he sees tattoos, the national police minister, Bheki Cele, sees “devolution” as criminal. In fact, it is this level of change that is required to start producing the different results we need from our hamstrung and mismanaged crime-fighting resources.

The Western Cape government believes there is a firm basis for the devolution of policing to provinces, particularly where they can show that they can do it better.

In technical terms, reliance could be placed on the provisions of section 99, read with section 206, of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa to assign to the relevant provincial ministers such powers and functions contained in the SAPS Act, 1995, as may be appropriate to empower the provincial government to exercise more effective and efficient control over the police service within the province.

In layperson’s terms, it is fully within the scope of the Constitution for the national minister to hand us these powers, knowing, as I am sure he does, that we would do it better.

Section 206[4] of the Constitution also makes express provision for the assignment of policing functions to the provincial executive through national legislation and/or national policing policy, in terms of which provinces could be enabled to exercise policing powers beyond mere monitoring and oversight, which has to date been the norm.

Despite the national minister’s firm stance against devolution, we, the Western Cape government, have not stood by. Knowing the painful costs of crime for our communities, we have already begun to invest in resources to offset national government’s failures in this sphere.

In September 2019, we introduced a safety plan from which the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (Leap) officers emanated. These 1,141 officers are situated in the 13 precincts with the highest murder rates in the province. Their deployment is dependent on data and science, which we monitor through our safety dashboard.

This intervention is delivering successes in reducing crime, as we see in the crime statistics. There is also a heartwarming degree of cooperation between Leap, the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies, which are working well together on the ground. Let me be clear: our men and women in blue are not the issue.

We have launched our Leap officers despite policing “falling outside of our mandate”, as Minister Cele puts it.

Minister Cele would do well to stop clutching at power, and instead take a leaf out of the Western Cape government’s book by simply doing what’s best to address safety – for the sake of all residents.

A police service under the Western Cape government would undergo several interventions:

  • We would immediately commence with the recruitment of more officers, with a focus on re-enlisting those who have left the service in good standing (particularly from an intelligence and detective perspective);
  • We would ensure the linking of detectives with prosecutors to improve prosecution outcomes;
  • We would conduct an immediate review of all stations and assets, to put an infrastructure upgrade plan in place;
  • We would establish a regular maintenance plan for all resources;
  • We would apply our data and science-led deployment strategy across the service, measuring the results of these interventions in real time;
  • We would learn from countries across the world which have embraced technologies and systems to aid crime-fighting;
  • We would shift the ranking of officers to be based on qualifications and experience (years);
  • We would reinstate or introduce specialised units to address niche categories of criminal behaviour, and provide our officers with specialised training; and
  • We would invest in a world-class forensics unit/lab.

Minister Cele was in Khayelitsha this past week, promising police stations to the local residents after a number of murders in the recent past. Well, it’s been eight years since the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry called for a station in the area – and one has still not been built.

Eight years is too long to wait, and we cannot afford to wait any longer while members of our communities are being shot in cold blood.

Unless the management of the SAPS is devolved to our province, I’m afraid we’ll only keep waiting and keep suffering more losses – and that would be insane.