South Africa’s massive police problem

 ·8 Apr 2024

The South African Police Service’s (SAPS) 2024/25 Annual Performance Plan shows that despite massive budgetary increases, the law enforcement body is still struggling to get a grip on the country’s surging crime rates.

One of the biggest problems the SAPS faces is an increasing population that new police recruitments simply cannot keep up with.

According to the report, some of its other most pressing internal challenges include:

  • Low morale of members;
  • Increased workloads;
  • SAPS members involved in crime;
  • Ageing, inadequate infrastructure;
  • Insufficient resources;
  • Need for modernisation;
  • and “reduced budget allocations.”

Boots on the ground problem

According to the 2014 and 2024 budget, SAPS has seen an over R50 billion budgetary increase over the past 10 years, with much of the focus on the recruitment of more officers.

“The SAPS has for a number of years faced the prospect of an ever-increasing population versus a steadily declining staff establishment,” said the report.

“This has several negative effects on the organisation as it struggles to keep pace with the increasing demand for policing services, an increasing crime rate and the effects of an over-stretched policing capability,” it added.

The country’s population increased from an estimated 54 million in 2014 to 62 million in 2022, while the actual SAPS workforce deployed to the frontline declined from 152,977 in 2014 to 145,256 in 2023.

This means that the police to population ratio has risen from approximately 1:353 in 2014, to 1:427 in 2023. The United Nations recommends a ratio of one police officer for every 220 people.

In hopes of countering this, government recently allocated R8.7 billion in the 2022/23 financial year, to “extend and rejuvenate SAPS’ staff establishment through the recruitment of 12,000 (changed to 10,000) additional personnel members.”

However, the report shows that this multi-billion rand intervention only saw a “marginal increase in the SAPS’ workforce, particularly that element of the workforce that serves the people of the country directly.”

A total of 10,000 new enlistments were added – but 5,000 were lost.

The number of total personnel (including administrative staff) is expected to increase marginally to 186,538 in 2026/27 – around 5,000 more than 2023/24.

Additionally, the report said that 16,230 out of 18,753 (86.55%) of SAPS vehicles are currently operational.

Impact on the Detective Service

“The Detective Service has not been immune to decreases in the workforce and increased workloads,” said the report.

The number of docket-carrying detectives has reduced from 18,963, at the start of 2022, to 17,614 (minus 1,349) at the start of 2023.

This has ultimately impacted detection rates.

The Africa Organised Crime Index, which looks into the extent of organised crime and the activities of criminal syndicates on the continent, described organised crime as an “existential threat” to the future of South Africa.

“South Africa’s inability to effectively deal with organised crime has resulted in a deterioration of its standing on the index, placing it at the forefront of organised crime activity in Southern Africa,” said SAPS.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, which stands at the forefront of law enforcement’s response to organised crime, “is hampered by critical understaffing and inadequate technological and physical resources,” said the report.

SAPS said in the report that it is “fully cognisant of the challenges that are impacting its capability, particularly at station level, and has developed an action plan [to address] further capacitation and the optimisation of the case docket management process.”

More budgetary increases

According to the performance plan, total expenditure for SAPS is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 5.8% to R124.8 billion in 2026/27.

However, this is inconsistent with data provided by the National Treasury.

According to the 2024/2025 budget, the police service has been allocated R125 billion for the current financial year, R131.23 billion for 2025/26 and R137.108 billion for 2026/27.

“Given the labour-intensive nature of policing, spending on compensation of employees constitutes an estimated 81.4% of the department’s total budget over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period,” said SAPS.

Can some of the interventions yield results?

To assist the stretched number of active officers, police minister Bheki Cele said that some of the interventions that SAPS will prioritise includes hiring new recruits, as well as buying “unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to enhance policing efforts, with drone pilots also being licensed and efforts to recruit drone pilot interns.”

Cele said that the budget also includes buying body-worn cameras, closed-circuit television (CCTV) as well as automatic number plate recognition systems.

Additionally, the report noted that various task teams have been established to assist in policing.

Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, David Bruce, wrote in an article titled “Police could do far more to make South Africa safer” that “the approach to South Africa’s policing challenges consists largely of recycling an old and ineffective formula.”

This includes “further budgetary increases, more waves of large-scale recruitment, new task teams, or the claim that Community Police Forums will be reinvigorated.”

Bruce said that significant progress in enhancing the SAPS and overall public safety is unlikely without recognition from top government officials of the need for a continuous, deliberate effort, with political leaders and senior officials thoughtfully evaluating the policy recommendations presented in various reports.

“What South Africa lacks is a blueprint for a more effective policing system – the government needs stronger capacity to formulate a practical policy agenda that takes account of South Africa’s complex and changing crime and safety problems,” said Bruce.

Read: 84 people murdered every day in South Africa- these are the most dangerous areas

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter