SA’s crime crisis: Urgent calls for decentralized policing, legal reforms – Woode-Smith

Nicholas Woode-Smith highlights the urgent need for reform in South Africa’s policing and law enforcement systems. He underscores the critical issue of slow police response times, advocating for proper funding, staffing, and decentralization of policing to empower local authorities. Woode-Smith calls for the elimination of unnecessary laws to focus on genuine crimes, encourages firearm ownership for self-defense, and emphasizes the potential for safer communities through sound reforms and effective local law enforcement.

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By Nicholas Woode-Smith

When seconds count, SAPS is an hour away  

When seconds count, the police are more than an hour away if you live in the Northern Cape. This is according to revelations by Police Minister Bheki Cele in response to a parliamentary question posed by the Democratic Alliance (DA). This response time to a crime in progress, including violence, is not much better in the rest of the country, with the Eastern Cape and Free State taking half-an-hour, and only the Western Cape and Gauteng taking a semi-reasonable 18 and 12 minutes, respectively.

This slow response time is just another symptom of an underfunded, understaffed, and undertrained South African Police Service (SAPS). And without a well-trained and sufficiently manned detective corps, already committed crimes are very unlikely to ever be solved; which means property remain stolen, and murderers and rapists stay on the streets. This is not to mention organised crime, which remains a scourge influencing every facet of daily life for many South Africans.

This slow response time is also assuming that SAPS even has available manpower to answer the phone. 10111 centres are understaffed, with South Africa’s three largest provinces only possessing a single 10111 command centre each. On top of this, these centres are undermanned and unable to keep up with demand from callers.

As reported by Okki Terblance, the Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Deputy Minister of Police, the 2021/2022 financial year saw the Midrand 10111 centre drop over 1.6 million calls. The majority of these calls were likely from genuine victims of crime. Victims who went unheard and have suffered as a result.

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Decentralise Policing

At first, we need the police to be properly funded and staffed. But this does not go far enough. It doesn’t matter how much money you assign to SAPS if it maintains its heavily politicised, top-down and centralised structure. The Police Minister’s incompetent dominance over SAPS ensures that real solutions are never implemented. And the ANC’s vindictiveness towards the DA dominated Western Cape ensures that SAPS there will never receive the share of the budget it needs.

Rather, SAPS needs to be decentralised, with policing becoming the domain of provincial governments, with a large portion of the provinces tax income staying in the province to pay for this law enforcement.

Provincial policing will ensure that corruption in the national hierarchy doesn’t drip down into local police forces, and that national government’s political agendas don’t come to affect law enforcement on the ground. Local government by its very nature is more easily to hold accountable than national government. While, ultimately, SAPS personnel are appointed by national government at the moment, locals will be able to have a proper say in the appointing of station commanders, holding them accountable for inaction.

Stop Wasting Police Time

Of 169 criminal offences on the books requiring SAPS intervention, only 26 are genuine crimes requiring police attention. These bad laws should be eliminated or reformed to become civil matters, freeing up police attention to focus on addressing genuine crimes. And, most importantly, allowing them to focus on protecting people and their property.

Eliminating these pseudo-crimes would also help ease the burden on the courts, and free up space in prison for genuine criminals.

Additionally, decriminalising victimless offences like drug possession and sale would allow legitimate businessmen to takeover from criminal syndicates, reducing the profitability of organised crime.

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Encourage Firearm Ownership

Even a well-oiled and efficient police force won’t be able to defend a victim immediately. South Africans must be enabled to defend themselves against violent criminals. The process to acquire a firearms license is currently incredibly stringent and convoluted. It needs to be simplified to allow for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.

A simple change would be to license individuals, looking for safety, competency and criminal records, and not firearms themselves. If an individual is deemed worthy of owning a single firearm, then it makes no difference if they own multiple for different purposes.

Recognising self-defence as an increasingly valid reason to own a firearm would also help matters. Most South Africans aren’t purchasing firearms to hunt or do sports shooting. They shouldn’t have to be a member of a shooting club. Just able to demonstrate that they are able to utilise the firearm responsibly, legally and safely.

South Africa can be safer

This country can become safer. The scourge of crime can be halted. We only need to embrace sound reforms that ensure that police are able to function effectively on a local level, free from political meddling, as well as strike bad laws from the books so that the police can focus on addressing genuine crimes. We only need to make the right decisions, and countless people can be saved from the terror of crime.

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*Nicholas Woode-Smith is an Associate at the Free Market Foundation.