Plans afoot to make blue line thinner
A CONTROVERSIAL plan by the South African Police to cut staff by more than 9000 members has triggered fears of a rise in crime.
But the police are going ahead with plans to buy 5798 new vehicles for about R1.1-billion, and spend R97-million buying weapons and ammunition.
The proposal - made in a document entitled The Annual Performance Plan 2012/13, which was released in April - will see the force being reduced from 197930 members to 188490 by March 2015.
In response, the chairwoman of parliament's police portfolio committee, Sindi Chikunga, has set up a meeting in June with the police's top brass to discuss the issue.
The cutbacks were triggered by a R2.1-billion reduction in the SAPS's baseline allocations over the next three years, and are expected to see the replacement of only a small number of the 5000 policemen who either resign or die every year.
Chikunga said more staff were needed if sector policing was to be successfully implemented.
She said she was not convinced by police assurances that staff cutbacks "won't have an effect on service delivery".
Top management at national level should get the boot instead, she said: "They never go out of their offices; that's the problem."
The proposed cuts are a reversal of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa's 2010 announcement to increase police numbers by 10% over three years.
The most recent plans have also taken the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) by surprise, with general secretary Nkosinathi Theledi saying his organisation would not support efforts to reduce staff.
"We ... will engage further with the department after studying" the annual performance plan, he said. "We need more cops than ever: they can't be talking of a reduction."
Seasoned policemen said this week that staff cuts would worsen problems in the SAPS, including the shortage of detectives.
The DA's shadow minister of police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said the planned staff reduction would "cripple" the force.
But Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, disagreed, saying hiring more policemen would not reduce crime.
"The UN recommends that countries have at least one police officer for every 400 civilians. We have one for about 265."
However, he said of the mass recruitment campaigns which began in 2002: "The reduction in numbers is to be welcomed, because [the SAPS] can start focusing on the quality of candidates.
"You should rather have fewer, better-trained, better-qualified and motivated policemen than simply a large number of people in uniform carrying firearms who are poorly trained," Newham said.
David Bruce, an independent researcher in policing, crime and criminal justice, said the mass recruitments had been "a serious error".
"You now have thousands of people who perhaps shouldn't be police officers, on the police payroll. It's a kind of long-term burden on the police organisation and on the fiscus."
During his budget speech in parliament this week, the police minister said the focus would be on quality recruits, rather than on simply boosting numbers.
Police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said the budget process for 2012/13 might lead to the "eventual reduced figures in line with the decline in budget allocations".
Naidoo was adamant "service delivery will not be affected".