Gwen Dereymaeker
Gwen Dereymaeker

DA should fix the police force, not expand it

The Democratic Alliance, if elected to run the next national government, will make it a top election priority to put “250 000 properly trained police officers on the streets”. DA leader Helen Zille reiterated this statement during the anti-crime march in Mitchells Plain held on April 6 2014. She added that the DA would do this “immediately”. The DA policy on safety, crime and justice states that the DA will increase the entire police contingency to 250 000 — a slightly different description than that of her statement, since SAPS will always need some staff sitting in offices while their colleagues are out on the streets.

Does the DA’s policy recommendation to have 250 000 police officers on the streets, thereby increasing the SAPS presence on the streets by almost 65%, and to “properly train” this large police contingency, constitute sound policy?

South Africa’s crime problem is a concern for many voters, and all political parties have focused parts of their election manifestos and latest policies on safety and security. They have made policy recommendations that see the reduction of crime and thus the perception of crime, in order for South Africans to be and feel safer than they are today.

A recent newsletter published by the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative analysed the ANC and DA’s electoral recommendations regarding safety and security. It concludes that their policies are very similar (despite the ANC providing very little information on what it would actually do to address crime). Neither political party recommends a major policy shift from the current government crime strategy, which is focused mainly on short-term strategies aimed at combating crime by relying on law-enforcement agencies and on being “tough on crime”. But experts increasingly warn that the current government strategy does not work and that a policy shift is needed. Being “tough on crime”, ie to rapidly and visibly (appear to) fight crime, is probably what most voters find appealing. But it is not the most successful long-term strategy to reduce crime.

The DA’s recommendation to put additional police on the streets confirms that the DA supports a “tough-on-crime” approach. What the DA does not say, however (and may not even have considered) is that such policy would have huge cost implications for the state coffers.

Currently, SAPS has a staff contingency of 197 946 (2012/13 SAPS annual report). Of these, 155 531 are uniformed SAPS members (and can therefore be on the streets), and 42 415 are civilians (who occupy administrative or other office positions). Therefore, if the DA wanted to effectively put 250 000 SAPS officers on the streets while maintaining the ratio between uniformed and administrative positions, it would need a total staff of about 320 000. This would then require the employment of an additional 120 000 SAPS members. Since the average cost of a SAPS employee is R237 000 a year (2012/13 SAPS annual report), this additional hiring would cost the taxpayer R28.4 billion a year. The current SAPS budget is R63.2 billion. This policy measure alone (and the DA recommends many more) would therefore require a 50% increase in the SAPS budget. In addition, the DA would “adequately train” these 250 000 SAPS officers that are on the streets. It is indeed pointless to hire more SAPS if they are not adequately trained, which is one challenge currently faced by SAPS. It is unclear what training programme the DA has in mind, ie the duration, the frequency and, maybe, most importantly, the capacity required for such a massive training programme. Quality training comes at a high cost, and would have to be added to the R28.4 billion already spent on salaries for additional staff. This is clearly unaffordable and, even if it were, there is no guarantee that such spending would actually deliver when it comes to the reduction of crime.

The South African Police Service is in crisis, something the ANC-led government has failed, over and over again, to acknowledge. The severe crisis of legitimacy SAPS faces is confirmed by the numerous surveys indicating the public’s lack of trust and confidence in the police due to police brutality, violence and corruption, publicised events such as the Marikana massacre, the deaths of Andries Tatane and Mido Macia, and its role in responding to violent service-delivery protests, to name a few.

The DA could conclude that in order to put 250 000 police officers on the streets, it would redeploy some of the current police officers from their administrative positions to the streets. The DA would also possibly change the staff allocation per programme, or change the distribution of staff per salary band, thereby reaching a different figure than the R28.4 billion put forward in this article. But if this is how the DA would implement its policy, then it should rather focus its attention on fixing the system (which might include inadequate staff distribution or salary allocation), rather than throwing more men and women into a dysfunctional institution.

Fixing the system requires understanding the crime problem as one not solely requiring a reactive response from the police, but interventions from other government departments whose actions have an impact on crime. It would also require better coordination within the criminal justice system, enhanced professionalism and reinforced accountability of the police. The National Development Plan (NDP) contains excellent recommendations on how to improve the criminal justice system, and much of the DA’s policy on safety, crime and justice speaks to the recommendations of the NDP. It is unfortunate that Zille and the DA’s election manifesto focuses the election campaign on the one unrealistic and exorbitantly expensive recommendation, as opposed to the less “sexy” ones outlined in this article (some of which are listed in the DA policy on safety, crime and justice and in their election manifesto).

Nevertheless, the DA should be congratulated for actually developing policy recommendations and submitting them to the voters, unlike the ANC. They do run the risk of being scrutinised and eventually held accountable if they cannot deliver on their electoral promises. Since the ANC recommends very little concrete actions, it will be much more difficult to hold the ANC accountable if it fails to deliver, since one does not know what actions it promises to undertake to improve the crime situation in the country.

Unfortunately, the DA appears to have done very little costing of its policies on safety and security. Moreover, it has not fully analysed which of its recommendations would put more or less pressure on the fiscus. The DA appears to support more and tougher law enforcement, without considering what it would cost the taxpayer, and whether less costly alternatives exist. The promise to put 250 000 police officers on the streets is an untenable electoral promise, but since the DA knows it will not be the party sitting at the Unions Building from 2014 to 2019, it can allow itself to make such a promise. It is a sad indictment for the leading opposition party of the country.

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