SAPS is now broke: 10,000 new police officers told after joining the police force

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Police this week welcome 10 000 new recruits who have been employed to join the police force, but a recent study indicates that this cohort already count among the ranks of members largely demotivated by the sorry state of affairs in the police, where they will find it almost impossible to fight crime.

On Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa told 2 938 of the recruits at the Tshwane police academy in Pretoria that their parade asserted their readiness to help eradicate crime, serve and protect.

“It is a role that will test your resolve in fighting crime, upholding the law and making South Africa a safe and peaceful country,” he said.

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But according to the findings of the Solidarity Research Institute’s survey on the working conditions and challenges of SA Police Services (Saps), seemingly more than just the recruits’ resolve will be tested.

Other than having no vehicles or equipment to carry out their duties, the recruits will find that they will also have to grapple dreadful working conditions.

Incapacitated

More than half of the 400 police officers sampled for the survey decried lack of equipment, resources, and support, as well as awful working conditions as the biggest source of their despair.

Even basic forensic equipment such as gloves and fingerprint powder or swabs used for taking DNA samples did not exist at some stations.

According to the study, when the 2021/22 annual report was finalised, 308 186 crime exhibits were still outstanding and 457 990 of the 536 530 exhibits were completed in the previous year.

The poorest performing sections were Chemistry, with a paltry figure of 15,5% exhibits finalised, followed by Biology, which includes DNA testing, with 19,08% of processes being finalised and Ballistics, where only 21,92% of exhibits were processed within 35 days.

This week, the Western Cape Department of Community Safety’s latest Court Watching Briefs report revealed that over 200 cases of violent crimes, including rape and murder, have been struck off the court roll due to incomplete investigations.

Some of these delays were caused by the backlog in processing DNA evidence at the provincial SAPS’ forensic science laboratory (FSL), days after police commissioner General Fanie Masemola said the backlog had been slashed by over half since he came into office in March.

Impossible task

The report points out that the respondents became police members to serve their communities but national government and top police management made it impossible to do so.

Police officers have to take turns use computers and wait to use a single telephone while backlog on their cases increased, with some resorting to using their own cell phones without compensation.

This is the case with stationery, printers, with detectives using outdated computers and unlicensed software.

One respondent lamented that that exhibits processed using unlicensed software was not admissible in court.

Researchers noted that it was common for up to four detectives to share a single computer as old as 15 years and not even connected to the internet.

This inability to do their work left police officers devastated, with the systems usually offline, meaning arrested criminals could not be processed or linked to other cases.

Also, case numbers often cannot be issued, with some members reporting they did not even have enough tables.

Researchers noted that the general safety of police members was another cause of great concern, with some stations not even fenced off and some did not have holding cells.

Staff shortages mean some officers have to perform duties they were not trained for, as well as executing arrests alone with no support.

A female officer told researchers how she had to flee from scenes because she was not getting any support.

Interventions

Asked to respond to the findings of the report, national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe shared latest interventions to strengthen capacity announced by the national commissioner.

She said SAPS management was consistently reviewing and developing strategies and interventions in response to the analysis of crime patterns and emerging crime trends in the country.

Mathe said the enrolment in April this year and the impending graduation of around 10 000 newly trained constables to date will to a certain extent alleviate the police-to-community ratio as police will have more boots on the ground to service communities.

“In terms of the budget, the finance minister Enoch Godongwana announced during his Medium Term Budget Policy Statement that Treasury will support police to recruit an additional 15 000 constables over the next three years. The process to recruit the first 5 000 for training in 2023, is underway,” she said.

This, Mate said, will bolster the SAPS human resource base to meet its mandate to prevent and combat crime.

She said plans were underway to fully embrace technology to strengthen capacity and capability to prevent and also respond to cybercrime.

From April, she said, 11 364 members were promoted, with a total of 7 694 promoted from the ranks of constable to sergeant and sergeant to warrant officer.

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