When was the last time a police Crime Intelligence (CI) operation led to a major bust or prevented a threat to public safety? We might never know, if official data is anything to go by, and according to experts, those instances are becoming fewer and further apart.
A report on a recent round-table discussion by experts and members of the intelligence community in South Africa shows the rapid deterioration of functionality and productivity at the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) Crime Intelligence division.
The report by the Inclusive Society Institute. shows that despite CI receiving a larger and larger share of the SAPS budget every year, and despite a significant endowment of police resources over the past decade, CI operations have declined and all indications suggest very little is happening at the division compared to ten years ago.
Stats indicate a decline in performance
In the report, analyses of past SAPS annual reports by Gareth Newham, crime expert at the Institute of Security Studies, show a significant decline in operations in CI, indicating a decline in productivity.
In the space of 10 years, the number of Crime Intelligence network operations which are aimed at organised crime or criminal networks declined from nearly 50 000 to just under 700.
An assessment of network operations by CI shows a drop from 49019 such operations in the 2011/2012 financial year to a mere 859 in 2015/2016. This number declined even further to 311 in 2018/2019 and slightly recovering to around 700 in the 2019 /2020 financial year.
Newham notes in the report that the police budget has over the last decade (2011/2012 to 2019/2020) increased by 81%, rising from R53,5 billion to R96, 8 billion. He says although CI forms only a small component of that budget (R4 billion), it’s proportional share has, over the same period risen to a much higher rate of 113%. Despite this, it appears the division is not operating optimally or even close to it.
Newham notes that it is very difficult to accurately measure the performance of SAPS and CI because of the way it has changed its data systems.
“Since 2016/2017, CI has repeatedly changed their annual performance indicators so that it is not possible to obtain a clear understanding of performance trends since then. This in itself is of concern as are the types of indicators used. They are output indicators, so it is not possible to asses the impact of the resources and work undertaken.”
Gareth Newham, Crime Expert
This points to a serious problem, he adds, as the work of crime intelligence is supposed to guide policing in terms of visible and active policing, such as by identifying emerging trends, patterns geographical hot spots and modus operandi.
An anonymous contributor to the report highlights the role of controversial political figures in the deterioration of CI.
The difficulties with regard to the political interference at the division, they note, started with the appointment of Richard Mdluli as SAPS National Head of Crime Intelligence. This 2009 appointment was made by former president Jacob Zuma, two months after he was sworn in.
“Mdluli himself was responsible for well over 200 appointments, many reportedly including family, friends and loyalists. Despite his history in the apartheid Security Branch, he expressed his loyalty to former President Zuma allegedly by playing a role in providing so called spy tapes that were used to illegally withdraw corruption charges against Zuma, enabling him to rise to the presidency.”
Inclusive Society Institute Report
The Action Society has long called for a complete overhaul of South Africa’s crime-fighting agencies, especially at the CI division of SAPS.
The division has been the subject of numerous inquiries in parliament, where it has been found to be mired in political interference, corruption and blatant abuse of state funds.
The lobby group’s spokesperson Ian Cameron says CI would have begun declining significantly after former SAPS boss Jackie Selebi ‘dismantled’ specialist units in the police.
“When Bheki Cele became the National Police Commissioner around the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the real downfall increased. During Riyah Piyega’s time as National Police Commissioner it worsened as well and we all know how Jacob Zuma pushed his tentacles into the entire law enforcement sector of South Africa,” saysCameron.
Crime intelligence has become one of the most captured institutions and is currently sitting with several key vacant posts which have yet to be filled. The deterioration of credibility and leadership in South Africa’s scandal-ridden security cluster has also rendered the key services at SAPS dysfunctional, he continues.
Recently questions were raised about the functionality of South Africa’s intelligence agencies, when over 300 people were killed during chaotic riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Despite the unrest having happened with ample warning on social media, preceding bouts of violence, looting and vandalism costing lives and billions of Rands went on for over two weeks, and the army had to be deployed to stop the scourge.
Cameron wonders whether the lack of apparent planning for the events of July was motivated by political interference within SAPS. Cameron sees this as a further indictment on the integrity of South Africa’s intelligence agencies.
“When you look at the role of CI during the looting in KZN and elsewhere it was really found lacking. I think the big problem is that there is still an incredible amount of good people working in what’s left of CI, and they did report a lot of things that happened which I have heard from several reliable sources within CI, but nothing was done. Which brings us back to (police minister) Bheki Cele, and one has to ask whether he made a decision to allow that which happened in KZN and whether he is in the Zuma camp when it comes to CI and the police. “
Not enough information
Eldred De Klerk, Director and Senior Associate of the African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis (ACSIP) suggests there is not enough publicly available data to indicate how badly operations at CI have deteriorated, but he does believe the division is not operating at its optimum efficiency due to the leadership challenges which have affected SAPS.
“It is very difficult to tell, and frankly, I think we don’t know enough about the context of how the decline in operations came to be. It could be that it’s solely due to the fact that CI has been exceptional at prevention or apprehension of key kingpins, and people with significant criminal intent and organisers, and therefore successful at disrupting or arresting organised crime,” says De Klerk.
“We do know that CI has suffered a significant body blow, largely due to the erosion of leadership in the CI component of SAPS.”
What we do know, he continues, is that the work of CI itself is strengthened and supported by other key components within SAPS, including a credible firearms registry a credible and reliable forensics component with a DNA registry, both of which have suffered operational challenges.
Unless SAPS has primarily done its work, relying on confessions and witnesses and not the other components traditionally explored in order to build a case, this would indicate that the work of CI and other crime-fighting divisions have been compromised.
De Klerk concludes that there needs to be more streamlined cooperation between South Africa’s crime fighting agencies, because in examples such as that of the recent unrest in KZN and Gauteng, crime prevention, crime fighting, and proper assessment of threats to the state and the public require a wider scope of expertise than just SAPS CI.