This probably seems like an unnecessary topic, but I have found that the average South African has only a basic understanding at best of how policing works and what their rights are within the SAPS’s processes. 

With a good understanding of the mechanisms that drive the SAPS and how to work within the framework, an individual homeowner can indeed gain access to more visible policing and better service delivery. 

To put policing in South Africa in context, one needs to understand the basic mechanisms and management of an average police station. For the sake of example, let us look at the basic structure of a director-level station (a director being the most senior officer at the station).

A director-level station will have a staff complement of around 200. Within these 200 staff are management, logistics, public relations, administrative staff, human resources, cashiers, liquor and firearm officers, detectives, crime intelligence and of course functional policing members. Functional policing is what most people identify easily. These are uniformed members of the SAPS who work in the public eye handling complaints and doing visible policing. 

Of a staff complement of around 200 less than half are functional members with the balance being administrative, logistical, etc. As with any business, the management of staff requires an infrastructure and people to manage it.

Let’s say that a station has 100 functional members. In order to provide 24/7 coverage, these are divided into at least four shifts to ensure that members work the prescribed number of shifts but also have rest days. This reduces the potential number of uniformed members on a shift to 25. 

The generally acknowledged sick and annual leave factor at most stations in South Africa is 20%, which puts the total headcount per shift at 20. Of those 20, there have to be at least two (preferably more) people manning the Community Service Centre (‘charge office’ in the old lingo), and there needs to be at least one person manning or controlling the cells.

That leaves roughly 17 people to man the vehicles that will patrol and respond to complaints. Two people per vehicle means that at ‘full strength’ the station can put eight vehicles on the road divided between sector policing and complaints. 

These numbers look pretty low, but all organisations require an administrative and support structure. Bottlenecks develop and service delivery is affected when major crimes happen and a vehicle must be sent with staff to control the scene and wait for the various personnel to arrive from forensics, etc. This immediately takes that patrol vehicle out of circulation for an hour or two. At the same time, making an arrest will also take a vehicle off the road for an hour at least while the prisoner is processed and the case docket opened. 

In this situation the station’s on-the-ground manpower is reduced from a possible eight vehicles to six. A busy nightshift, for example, can quickly deplete manpower and lead to slower response times than communities would like. In between this, officers working an eight- to 12-hour shift also need to have a break to eat and rest and complete their administration. 

Realistically, our on-the-ground uniformed policing presence in South Africa is low in numbers and the officers on the road do an exceptional job under the circumstances. 

Understanding this, what are the implications for our community?

By understanding that there is indeed a management structure behind every marked vehicle we see on the road, we’re able to appreciate that when things don’t work the way that they should, we do have a recourse as long as we have accurate information and know the channel to follow. We’re also able to understand why we have Community Police Forums (CPFs) in South Africa (more about those later).

Around 2004, the SAPS adopted the sector policing model which has a major impact on how our communities are policed. Effectively, sector policing takes a large precinct (the area covered by your police station) and divides it into smaller pieces using natural boundaries such as major roads. These are called sectors. 

Each sector has an experienced police officer as the sector manager. The sector manager is responsible for interacting with the community in his sector, familiarising himself with crime patterns and trends and focusing on ‘high flyers’ (prominent criminals) in that sector. It is the sector manager’s responsibility to feed back directly to the community on crimes and trends in his sector and to get their input. At the same time, the sector manager is tasked with overseeing the shifts that patrol the sector to ensure that they are briefed on the crime trends in the area and patrol accordingly. 

Within the sector policing model, each sector vehicle is supposed to be equipped with a cellphone that is accessible 24/7/365 to the community it serves. The sector manager also has a dedicated cellphone to make him accessible to the community. In reality, we have to bear in mind that cellphones can’t always be answered immediately, they fail and need replacing, and batteries go flat. However the principle is sound as it brings the community and their local police closer together. 

When it works, sector policing is phenomenal. It really does make an impact and makes managing crime and trends easier while focusing attention on known criminals in the area. 

We now need to tie together the manpower component of a police station with the aims and objectives of sector policing to see how it works, and also to understand why it doesn’t work as well as it should. 

We’ve looked at how a police station with 200 staff could probably field eight vehicles at any point in time for visible policing. If your station has five sectors for example, there should be one vehicle dedicated to each and the balance for complaints. Sector vehicles can do complaints (calls from 10111) but ideally should be focused on proactive patrols. 

Often, when one sector is busier than another, the sector vehicles are moved to that area to keep the crime down and consequently visible policing in the quieter sectors suffers. It’s not ideal, but it is realistic and achieves the overall objective of reducing crime and providing a safe and secure environment. 

It’s important to remember that sector policing is a flexible model. All policing models need to be adaptable to crime trends and patterns in the interests of providing service delivery. 

In order for sector policing to perform at its best, the community needs to be involved. There need to be regular feedback meetings with the sector manager to discuss crime patterns and what’s being done to address them. There need to be regular sessions where community concerns are raised and properly addressed. The community also needs to be involved as reservists ideally, or at the very least in helping to pass on information. 

In my opinion, a CPF and Sector CPF can only be effective if they truly understand policing policy and mechanisms and ensure that these are maximised. 

Too often people don’t report crimes because they’re either seen as petty or as ‘unsolvable’ and of course the community gets disheartened when they don’t see a direct line of action after a crime so they stop reporting the smaller ones. 

This is a monumental mistake. Only by reporting every single crime that happens in the area can the station justify additional resources. Just like any organisation, your local police station has to justify the need and expense of additional manpower and logistics. This can only be done when the community is actively reporting crimes – no matter how petty they may seem. 

Finally, let’s look at the chain of recourse that you have as a resident if you’re not happy with the way that policing is happening or with the actions of a police officer. 

Your first port of call for a concern or complaint should be your sector manager. If you don’t get a satisfactory response from the sector manager, you’re entitled to escalate your concern to either the head of visible policing (to whom sector managers report) at your local station if it is regarding uniformed policing, or to the head of detectives at the station if it is an investigative matter. 

Beyond this, you can raise your concern directly with the station commissioner. Ideally this should be done through the CPF chairperson so that he or she can provide their input and sit in on the meeting. 

If after meeting with the station commissioner you still don’t feel that your concerns have been adequately addressed, you can take the matter further to the Independent Complaints Directorate who oversee policing and corruption and investigate such incidents based on complaints received by the community.  

With the mechanisms above and a basic understanding of how your local station works, you can increase your own personal security by staying informed and using the resources available to you in the most appropriate way. 

Copyright: Craig Pedersen 2014

 

PatrolMan is a revolutionary mobile phone application for recording incidents as observed or conducted by Neighbourhood Watches. Don't hesitate - download PatrolMan today!