2008-06-22 : Can we rely on the police?

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2008-06-22 : Can we rely on the police?

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2008-09-05 12:33

Can we rely on the police?

June 22 2008 at 12:34PM

By Clayton Barnes

Almost exactly a year after a damning report revealed the Western
Cape was being policed by a frayed blue line, experts say conditions
are now far worse.

The report, "Complaints in terms of Section 206(5) of the
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa", which was first
written over a period of three months last year, was updated by the
same group of experts, including forensic expert Dr David Klatzow
and the director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Paul
Hoffman, last month.

The original report called for a commission of inquiry into the
"ineffective" police service in the province. Not only had this not
taken place, there had been "further deterioration" in the level of
service over the past year.

The new report, which was sent to the office of Minister of Safety
and Security Charles Nqakula, says the lack of acceptable service
delivery by the police over the past year had led to an even further
break down in trust between the people and the police.

This gave rise to vigilantism and protest action in which the police
were perceived and portrayed as "protecting, aiding and abetting"
criminal elements on the Cape Flats.

Speaking to Weekend Argus last week, Klatzow said the state of the
South African Police Service in the province and nationally was "far
worse" than it was last year.

Dozens of dedicated policemen and women were still leaving the force
every month and the police's forensic laboratories were in a
"complete mess".

"The only thing that has improved is the blood alcohol tests, which
now take the required six weeks," said Klatzow.

But Western Cape police spokeswoman Director Novela Potelwa
condemned the report, calling it a "disjointed piece of work".

"It is grossly misleading, inaccurate and is not based on empirical

Potelwa expressed disappointment at the updated report, as it
included almost all of the points raised last year.

"Laboratories that deal with DNA analysis, ballistics and drugs are
located in Cape Town but are national facilities servicing the
Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces," she said.

"All queries relating to these laboratories will be best answered by
head office in Pretoria as they are not Western Cape facilities."

In April parliament's safety and security portfolio committee heard
that backlogs at forensic science laboratories throughout the
country had increased by 66 percent since last year.

According to a reply to a parliamentary question, the situation at
the laboratories had worsened despite a promise in last year's State
of the Nation address by President Thabo Mbeki to "bring to full
capacity the forensic laboratories".

DA spokesperson for safety and security Dianne Kohler Barnard said
well-functioning and efficient forensic laboratories were a critical
component in the fight against crime.

"Unless evidence such as DNA or blood samples is swiftly and
accurately analysed, justice is delayed and as a result, often

"Victims of crime can wait months, if not years, for their cases to
progress in court because critical samples are backlogged at the

"The lengthy trial delays impact on victims' ability to give
evidence and criminals are likely to walk free when cases are struck
from the court roll."

Last year there were 4 874 chemistry samples (drugs and chemical
samples) waiting analysis, this year there are 8 716. Total backlogs
of evidence awaiting analysis have increased from 6 086 last year to
10 121 this year.

A list of questions to the police head office about the state of
their laboratories remained unanswered two weeks after it was sent.

Among other points highlighted in the updated report, which included
a number of points raised last year, are:

The mental health of some members. The incidence of suicide, family
murders, post traumatic stress disorder, violence and substance
abuse among police is far higher.

There is also cause for concern about the physical health and
fitness of many members of the police.

It is also apparent from the failure rates in the inefficient
attempts of the police to bring the perpetrators of crime to justice
that radical improvements in the methods of investigation are

The failure of the prosecution in the Inge Lotz murder trial drew
adverse criticism from the presiding judge.

The withdrawal of charges and innumerable acquittals which are
attributable to sloppy police work point to the need for a
commission of inquiry.

The proposed demise of the Directorate of Special Operations or
"Scorpions", whether or not it happens, is likely to negatively
affect the fight against gangsterism and organised crime on the Cape

In response to the charge about the mental state of police members,
Potelwa said the police had the Employee Assistance Programme that
is run by psychologists, social workers and spiritual services.

"The head of the programme briefs police management regularly on the
state of police in the province.

"Where interventions are required, they make necessary
recommendations to management.

"It would be irresponsible for the experts who compiled the report
to make unsubstantiated claims as there is no research to support
their claims."

This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Argus on
June 22, 2008
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