ZIZAMELE CEBEKHULU-MAKHAZA: Police need greater support in fight against violent crime
While the president's recent state of the nation address (Sona) promised to recruit another 10,000 police personnel this year to deal with the heavy toll of violent crime, SA’s police service remains woefully understaffed and under-resourced, by both international standards and the needs of the country.
Notably, according to Africa Check the ratio of police (excluding administrative staff) to the population in SA was one officer for every 403 people in 2022. By contrast, the UN recommends a ratio of one police officer for every 220 people, pointing to the pressures currently facing these vital public servants in maintaining law and order.
That said, comparing SA to other countries is difficult because there are many factors that can affect the number of police officers per capita, such as population size, crime rates and economic resources. It is also important to note that the ratio alone does not necessarily indicate the quality of policing or the level of public safety in a country. Other factors, such as police training, equipment and community relations, also play a significant role in determining the effectiveness of a police force.
However, it is also important to recognise that in SA the relatively low ratio of police to citizens is combined with an unusually high crime rate. While the government has been working to gradually increase the number of police officers to improve public safety and reduce crime, the problem of inadequate resources and rising criminality still exists — especially given factors such as increasingly difficult economic conditions.
Having additional officers can help build better relations between police service members and the community.
Consider, for example, that according to the latest crime statistics for October to December 2022 incidents of murder, assault, robberies and sexual offences all recorded a marked rise year on year.
In December, 9,203 newly trained police constables successfully completed their nine-month intensive police development training programme at various police training academies across the country, including the SA National Defence Force training facility in the Northern Cape. These members were then deployed to bolster crime prevention efforts.
While the injection of this new blood within the ranks will go a long way in assisting to enhance police visibility, it is just a drop in the ocean. We need to ensure that we continuously bolster our numbers every year. Having more police officers will allow for more effective policing and more boots on the ground, which can help to deter crime by increasing the visibility of law enforcement and making it more difficult for criminals to operate.
More officers will also translate to faster response times. Police can respond more quickly to calls for service and reduce the harm caused by crimes in progress. Additionally, having more resources available enables police to investigate more cases, identify and arrest more offenders, and bring more criminals to justice.
Finally, having additional officers can help build better relations between police service members and the community, enhancing their service and assisting to increase community trust and co-operation with the police, making it easier to gather information and identify suspects.
It is important to note, however, that a holistic approach is needed. Employing more police personnel is not a panacea to the war on crime; this should be combined with other measures such as increased focus on training, enhanced crime prevention methods, greater focus on community policing and rehabilitation programmes for offenders.
• Cebekhulu-Makhaza is president of the Police & Prisons Civil Rights Union.
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