Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

R26bn Saps budget cuts may see 13 000 cops get the chop from the street

The department underspent its budget on visible policing by R2.665 billion and it had underspent on detective services by R997 million.

Sweeping budget cuts of R26 billion over the next three years for the SA Police Service (Saps) will take 11 000 cops and 2 000 detectives off the streets.

But the bloated top brass structure won’t be affected. Experts believe Saps’ demons had very little to do with money. It was revealed in the police department’s annual report tabled in October that Saps underspent its budget on visible policing by R2.665 billion and it had underspent on detective services by R997 million.

The Institute for Security Studies said the budget slash translated to 11 000 fewer police officers and 2 000 fewer detectives. But the top brass, criticised as too large for no apparent reason other than high salaries and top perks, remained unaffected. Public policy and security studies researcher and author Ziyanda Stuurman said the Saps’ bloated leadership structures meant not enough officers were being trained.

“[Not enough] officers are being upskilled or reskilled for more sophisticated policing operations and too many officers are receiving automatic promotions with little regard for their performance,” she said.

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Stuurman said the most obvious impact of the budget cuts will be in the inequality of distribution in police resources and personnel across communities. She said the Covid pandemic has affected the Saps’ ability to recruit and train as many as 14 000 new police officers in 2020 and 2021, yet the organisation was still losing police officers to retirement, resignation and death.

Stuurman said a question to ask Police Minister Bheki Cele would be where those 14 000 officers would have been deployed, given the country’s difficulties with ensuring resources and personnel are adequately deployed.

“It is very clear that the issues at hand are training capacity and personnel capability … there are structural and institutional issues within the Saps that urgently need to be addressed,” she said.

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, director of the International Court of Justice’s Africa office, said budgetary cuts for the police created a platform for the Saps to re-evaluate its needs and to restructure its department in line with the country’s crime-fighting priorities and areas of greatest need, like improving its response and efficacy on violence against women.

She said the budget reduction was not necessarily bad news, although a reduction of police officers was worrying.

“The police service will need to seek out avenues to improve efficiencies and also to remove corrupt and poorly performing officers,” Ramjathan-Keogh said.

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She said the Saps should view these budget cuts as a chance to streamline operations to improve efficiency and service delivery. According to Ramjathan-Keogh, the Saps will need to improve its performance to ensure a level of service delivery.

“The most practical ways to do this are increase focus on training, conduct an evaluation and reform of policies and procedures, ensure strict adherence to those policies and ensure that disciplinary cases are dealt with swiftly and fairly,” she said.

Even with the current police numbers and budget, Ramjathan-Keogh said police were unable to respond effectively to the devastating July 2021 unrest.

She said this was not related to the numbers of police on the ground, but rather illustrated a reluctance to deal with this kind of civil unrest.

“We have yet to see accountability from the police for the very serious failures which were recorded over this period,” she said.