Safety in Numbers

29 05 2008

By Karen Thome

I’ve always felt pretty safe in this country. Maybe it’s because I have always had the “it can’t happen to me” attitude, and so far “it” hasn’t, so why should I worry, right? Well, now I am worried. After living in South Africa for my whole life, I am finally worried. Now I can actually understand why people are willing to sacrifice the sunshine of S.A for the safety of another continent.

I was speaking to local Grahamstown inspector, Milanda Coetzee the other day, and she told me that there is a mere one policeman to every 570 people in Grahamstown. That is scary. She also informed me that when a case is reported the police investigate it for 24 hours, and if no suspect turns up, or if there’s not enough evidence, the case is put on file where it remains untouched- basically it’s scrapped. The shock doesn’t even end here though! Did you know that the police are so under- staffed that they are forced to prioritise specific crimes only if they have become a trend in a particular area. So basically, if your friend is murdered, but he is the only one for the month in his area, then his case isn’t seen as a priority, and the criminals will more than likely not be convicted. Inspector Coetzee put it in a very nice way when she said, “it’s not like Law and Order, or CSI where they spend months on a single case, and each murder is a priority, I wish it was. But it’s just not.”

The fact of the matter is that police can’t afford to value the individual. I was doing a story on a small pre- school which has been broken into seven times in fourteen months. The children of this school have had their mattresses, food, toys, tables, books, plates, spoons, oven and fridge taken from them! And guess what, not a thing has been done about it. The suspects from the first burglary were released without bail because the next court date they could get was over a year later. There’s just too much crime, and not enough court time.

I asked inspector Coetzee what she thought people could do to help the situation. She obviously was against people taking the law into their own hands, as this often gets the victim into more trouble than the criminal. She instead suggested that people report any criminal activity they are aware of so that police can see where the trends are and target the problem. But, once again, where does this leave the individual? Are people supposed to wait until their whole area is flooded with crime before any justice can take place?







4 responses

29 05 2008

To say that the police are understaffed is not an excuse. They have themselves to blame. Many matriculants in this town and other places are willing to work for the SAPS, but they are told that they need to have a drivers licenses…isn’t that stupid if you claim to be understaffed.

1 06 2008

I agree, its not an excuse, but at the same time it’s not easy to find people who equipped with the necessary skills who are willing to work for a low pay…Also, a police officer does need a drivers licence if they going to be able to perform their job properly, don’t you think? In other countries you can only become a police officer if you have some form of tertiery education, so i dont think its a job for under- skilled people.

3 06 2008

What do you mean by its not a job for underskilled people…. those people who are serving in the SAPS were never born police…they went through training when they were inside the service… when it was white people who really wanted to be cops they were accepted without ever being asked about drivers’ licences…now that there are more blacks seeking jobs in the SAPS, whites are quick to talk about skills and all that nonsense…. what’s the use of having police academies if we are going to ask people for skills before they join the force? Why we have prison warders and soldiers who joined those services without skills .

3 06 2008

Don’t attack individuals Rhini-boy? But, I agree with you when you say “what skills”? SAPS train people, and in that way they acquire the skills required. Under-skilled people, were you born skilled? you learn? In terms of driver’s licence, The police must provide lessons for the staff, like in army?

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