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Picture: 123RF/95081215
Picture: 123RF/95081215

Claire Bisseker’s recent column on the Western Cape government’s “Leap” anticrime programme prompted the following comment online: “I and my black family may be living in a different country than Claire. New police officers are mostly deployed in the traditional white suburbs. I grew up in Kraaifontein and my family still live there. The reduction in the murder rate happened across Cape Town and nationally due to lockdowns. Privilege bubble reporting.” (“Winde is showing other politicians how to make the news good again”, August 22).

Is this fair? Kraaifontein does have a murder problem, and SA Police Service (SAPS) officers are disproportionally allocated away from poorer areas (confirmed by the Equality Court in a case arising out of the Khayelitsha Commission, a provincial intervention). But, by constitutional design, provinces have little influence over police deployment — they can ask for changes in their Policing Needs & Priorities submissions, but policing is a national function and national government is not bound by such requests.

However, Leap officers are not police officers. The programme, championed by Western Cape premier Alan Winde, stands for Law Enforcement Advancement Programme and is part of the law enforcement service of the City of Cape Town. Municipalities have traffic services or law enforcement or both, with policing-like powers of arrest, search and seizure for certain crimes. But by law only the SAPS and metropolitan/municipal police services formally established in terms of the SAPS Act are allowed to be called “police”. 

Most metro municipalities have replaced their traffic and law enforcement services with metro police, but Cape Town unusually fields separate traffic services, metro police and law enforcement. Why? Metro police must operate on a 24-hour basis, members must be qualified traffic officers, and funding may not come from external sources. Leap is funded by the province explicitly to reduce murder. Leap officers are deployed to high violence areas, as identified through the province’s health department trauma and homicide data.

The first set of Leap officers, drawn mainly from existing law enforcement officers, were deployed in five areas, including Khayelitsha since mid-2020 (Leap 1). The second set, drawn mainly from new recruits after mid-2021, were deployed in an additional five areas (Leap 2), including Kraaifontein. 

The Covid lockdowns had a profound impact on crime and murder in SA. While there were seeming reductions in the country, mostly in 2020 and less so in 2021, the long-term  consequence in 2022 has been an increase in violent crime. The upshot is neither 2020 nor 2021 should be used for analysis. The baseline year should be 2019, and with 2022 as impact year the overall rise must be accounted for. To do this the Leap areas should be compared with comparable national, provincial and local areas as controls, to see if there is divergence.

For the sceptical, the raw murder data from SAPS quarterly crime reports shows SA as a whole experienced a 21% increase in the number of murders compared to 2019  — more than 2,200 additional lives lost, which cannot be ascribed to population growth alone. In the Western Cape there was a more modest 4% increase in murders (77 more deaths). By contrast, all the Leap 1 areas except Philippi showed a decrease. The increase in Philippi (up 9%) is still lower than the 21% national increase, while the five Leap 1 areas summed show a 19% decrease (82 fewer murders).

The Leap 2 areas show more mixed results, and an overall increase — but at 15% this was lower than the national increase and the increase in similar, neighbouring, control areas in the city, which with a 31% increase were similar to Gauteng (29% increase). This suggests adjacent control areas may simply be reflecting the national trend, though displacement effects cannot be ruled out.

Could the changes in murder be due to changes in SAPS deployment? Provincial parliamentary questions reveal changes in the SAPS establishment between 2019 and 2021. Comparing 2019 to 2021, this data shows that SAPS personnel increased by 31 in Delft (12%) and by six in Bishop Lavis (2% increase). Khayelitsha and  Philippi experienced a decrease of six and one respectively (2% and 1% less), while in Nyanga the increase was one (less than 1%).

So changes in SAPS deployment may have played a role in Delft, and a slight role in Bishop Lavis, but not in the other areas. By contrast, all of the control areas experienced small to large increases in deployment (two, four, 18, 20 and so on, increases of 2%- 22%). Consequently, if the 2022 establishment figures are vaguely similar to 2021 the increases in murder in control areas are not due to changes in SAPS deployment. 

Indeed, the starkness of the divergence in the trends strongly suggests the Leap intervention has had a significant impact. The better result for Leap 1 compared to Leap 2 could relate to the duration of the intervention (just more than two years versus one year), or to the relative experience of the Leap 1 officers (experienced versus new recruits).

If the intervention is showing impact, it is partly because there has been co-operation between Leap and the SAPS in the relevant areas. Leap works closely with the police and they have frequent joint operations. Leap is reliant on the SAPS for crime hotspot data, the detention and processing of suspects, and the processing of seized firearms and dangerous weapons, of which Leap has seized hundreds, which is probably part of the reason for its apparent impact. The province has in turn provided the funding and strategic direction. This is real intergovernmental co-operation on the ground.

Why has Leap apparently been more effective than additional police resourcing? The size of the additional resourcing (in some areas as many as 90 law enforcement officers) is large compared to resource adjustments typically made by the SAPS. Their impact is heightened by deployment to hotspots within the hotspots. Furthermore, almost all Leap officers are engaged in visible patrolling, sometimes on foot, whereas a  large proportion of SAPS officers are desk- or task-bound. 

What is happening in Kraaifontein, where there is reportedly good co-operation between Leap and the SAPS but which saw a 67% increase in murder? Kraaifontein has experienced a large amount of in-migration and informal settlements in the area continue to grow. It is possible the increase is entirely in line with population change. This scenario applies in many urban areas, which is why policing deployment needs to be far more responsive to changes on the ground.

Nevertheless, the Leap intervention, involving multilevel government co-operation, provides hope that it may be possible to make a dent in SA’s crime problem, and that it is not all about effecting long-term societal change. In intergovernmental co-operation it echoes the Gauteng aggravated robbery strategy, a successful intervention ahead of the 2010 World Cup that unfortunately did not last.   

• Redpath is a senior researcher at the Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape.

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