How the Department of Community Safety supports the criminal justice system
Opinion Editorial by Albert Fritz
Western Cape Minister of Community Safety
The concept of criminal justice is age-old. The first known codified law was the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian legal code, dating back to approximately 1754 BC.
Today, the concept of criminal justice has evolved rapidly from the Babylonian principle of ‘an eye for an eye’ to a set of complex and interdependent government institutions and laws whose collective goal is to investigate, arrest and convict unlawful individuals.
In most modern states, the criminal justice system works as follows, law enforcement investigate cases and gather evidence which result in arrests. Once arrests are made, those arrested appear before a court of law. If they are found guilty, they may be sentenced to jail where they will serve their sentence. The primary institutions involved in this are law enforcement (SAPS), the judiciary (courts) and correctional services (jails).
If any one of these three major institutions becomes dysfunctional or is undermined, which too often is the case, the safety of our citizens is put at risk. Recognising that there are constraints to the criminal justice system, the Department of Community Safety (DoCS) takes a number of steps to counteract and address these threats.
It is no secret that the SAPS face resource and training constraints. The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) Africa recently revealed that SAPS are considered the most corrupt institution in the country. As a consequence of these interrelated factors, service delivery is often halted leaving citizens stranded when they need police the most.
To address these service delivery issues, DoCS supported the launch of 100 additional law enforcement officers in Bonteheuwel for the Neighbourhood Safety Team. Between January and 30 June 2019, there were 44 reported cases of murder. Since, the number of reported murders has declined rapidly, bringing safety to a once turbulent community.
To further address strengthening the link between communities and SAPS, DoCs will be proceeding with the upcoming CPF elections between September and December 2019. CPFs play an invaluable role in bridging the gap between communities and the police. It is essential that members of the highest integrity, willing to work towards this aim, be elected in the midst of prevailing crime in the province.
Too often we hear of heart wrenching cases of murder and rape being thrown out of court because of poor SAPS investigations which resulted in investigations being incomplete, witnesses and the accused not appearing in court, outstanding forensic reports and dockets not appearing in court. Consequently, a great number of those arrested are not convicted and are released back onto the streets.
To address this, DoCS has established the Court Watching Briefs Unit to monitor police conduct and overseeing the effectiveness of the police service as per Section 206 (3) (a) and (b) of the Constitution. It reports on serious criminal cases that have been scrapped from the court role as a result of SAPS inefficiencies.
The courts observed include areas where gangs are active. In the previous financial year, the Unit dealt with 3269 matters in 37 courts across the Province. Reports are submitted to SAPS on a quarterly basis and corrective action is taken by SAPS Management.
Once a convicted criminal arrives in prison, new threats to safety emerge. Prisons in the Western Cape are often referred to as ‘Universities of Crime’ because of the hold gangs have over prisons. Added to that our prisons are overcrowded and a significant proportion of the population are under 25 years old. The Department monitors this through unlock statistics it receives from the Department of Correctional Services.
Ultimately, the strength of the entire criminal justice system cannot be measured by the number of people we put behind bars. Safety should not fixate on imprisonment but rather, keeping people out of prison. It should be proactive not reactive.
As we move forward, we must continue to be innovative in our approaches to safety. Each of us must take on the personal responsibility of reporting crime and supporting safety initiatives in our community because only by working Better Together can we make the Western Cape safer for all who live in it.