Sunday, October 25, 2009

Strategies for stopping country’s runaway crime

There are some sensible suggestions here but none that are quick fixes, probably none that we can afford either as a country and the longer we delay action, the less likely the crime scourge can be arrested (pardon pun). The answers can be had but it will never happen while the ANC is in power, it's that simple.

The new muscular police strategy of shoot-to-kill to stop runaway crime is not the solution. The real danger of the policy is that it will encourage trigger-happy police, as likely has been the case in the tragic shooting of Olga Kekana in Pretoria, who was mistaken by the police for a car hijacker last Sunday.

Firstly, the argument that criminals have used South Africa’s model constitution and legislation to evade the law is just foolish. Surely, the woeful performance of the police and the poor state of the criminal justice system cannot be blamed on South Africa's model constitution and its laws.

For another, the Criminal Procedure Act as it stands, which the Police Commissioner Bheki Cele blames for police inadequacy and wants to amend, with the support of President Jacob Zuma, already gives the police sufficient power to use force if they or the public are in danger. Better policing and an effective criminal justice system must be at the heart of any turnaround strategy to curb out-of-control crime.

The real issues are corruption, inefficiency and lack of adequate skills and resources in the police service and the criminal justice system. We need a comprehensive turnaround strategy.

We must start by dealing with the perceptions that some dodgy political figures are above prosecution, if they have the right political connections or are aligned with the right political faction within the ANC; and that in some cases people are prosecuted to settle political scores.

We must also take the politics out of policing, as we must also take business out of policing, asking those with business connections to get rid of it.

The police force has a credibility problem, which must be dealt with. There is a perception in the public image that some bad apple policemen are in cahoots with, if not criminals themselves. Often almost everybody in a township knows who the criminals are, where the drugs and stolen goods come from, where the gangsters hang-out.

Yet, the police in many cases often appear not to know this or ignore this. If the police leadership strategy is to score big wins early on in the fight against crime, the first thing the police must do is to round up the most known (by communities) big wig criminal bosses across the country. Furthermore, there is a perception that in some instances the police are picking on soft targets, rather than taking head on the big criminal masterminds.

For example, the metro police often sit comfortably on the side of highways and stop easier targets in cars, while the most effective action crime prevention action should be to police communities, where the murders, housebreaking, hijackings and serious crimes are happening. The police must get elementary police work right, take proper notes, be able to the right things at a crime scene, not to lose firearms and dockets. The vacancies in the police force must be filled, even if it means recruiting all those who took voluntary retrenchment packages before.

Cele must go on a drive to attract specialist skills to the police service, and expand the recruitment pool, especially to the leadership, to bring the best possible talent on board. He must reinstate the specialised police units, such as the narcotics bureau, the family violence, child protection and the sexual offences units. Build more forensic science laboratories, and recruit more scientists, even if means importing from abroad en-masse in the interim.

A police station should be built in every township. This should be done through public works programs, with the local unemployed in the area building it. Recruit at least 100 000 more police officers, for detective work. Furthermore, recruit another 150 000 matriculants who are unemployed, who have impeccable characters, and employ them as police assistants in the community.

The police must release crime statistics regularly and transparently, so that we can clearly measure progress, and so that civil society, the media and the public can hold the police accountable.

As part of a comprehensive anti-crime, poverty and job creation strategy, the government must introduce a basic income grant to help people affected by poverty and the impact of the global financial crisis. This will with one stroke deal with those who are forced to commit crime just to survive, and help focus police resources elsewhere, where it matters most.

* William Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.

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