Shocking decline in the number of police reservists in South Africa

The number of police reservists has declined to 8,908 from 63,592 members in 2010, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has revealed in parliament.

This represents a decline of 86% over the past nine years.

The national police commissioner was responding to a parliamentary question raised by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which noted that the SAPS is 64,000 police officers short of meeting the United Nations police-to-citizen ratio of 1:220.

In South Africa the ratio is 1:380.

“The lack of visible policing has had a significant impact on safety and security and in preventing violent crimes,” the party said.

“Reservists play a critically important role in ensuring that we have more boots on the ground by supplementing the ranks of ordinary officers,” the DA said.

“Not only do they play an essential role in aiding the police, but also make it possible for more officers to be available for greater visible policing which is desperately needed on South Africa’s streets.”

Police reservists are members of the community who become part of a support team, appointed by the national police commissioner to help the SAPS perform their tasks. They operate on a voluntary basis.

Reservists operate in two categories, either helping with general policing and community safety – or doing more specialised tasks. Reservists are often retired SAPS members.

While reservists are not part of the active police force, and operate part-time, voluntarily, they must be trained in their functions, wear uniforms, and act under supervision of seniors. They are vetted and screened for records, and have to be physically and mentally fit for the job, among other requirements.

Members of the community cannot become reservists if they are part of or linked to any industry they may be required to assist in policing – including the liquor industry (shebeens/taverns), sex trade (brothels, escort services, etc), the taxi industry, gambling/casinos, or microlending and debt collecting.

Certain fields are also excluded, such as those working in media and private security.

The exclusion of private security is notable because the latest 2018/2019 report by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA), shows that there are currently 2.36 million security officers registered in South Africa – of which over 498,435 are employed by just over 9,000 registered and active security businesses.

This means that there are close to five security officers to every police officer in South Africa.

New draft regulations under consideration are trying to better regulate the private security industry in the country, looking at how security guards are uniformed (so as not to be confused with or seen as police) as well as proposing tighter restrictions on gun use.

Read: New changes could seriously damage private security in South Africa

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Shocking decline in the number of police reservists in South Africa