The Department of Community Safety are concerned by the provisions to the  South African Police Service (SAPS) Amendment Bill. Western Cape MEC Albert Fritz explains they are particularly focused on the provisions related to Neighbourhood Watches and changes to the police service.

The bill proposes that Neighbourhood Watches (NHW) be required to register with Community Police Forums (CPFs). Minister Fritz disagreed with this, saying: “it cannot be expected of NHWs to be registered with Community Police Forums (CPFs).”

This is because CPFs’ objectives are different from those of NHWs. The main object of CPF is oversight over the police as set out in section 18 of the bill, according to Fritz.

NHWs on the other hand, “are not police officials nor do they have any policing function. Their role is to act as the eyes and ears of the community through patrols.”

As of 2020, there are approximately 307 NHW groups that are accredited by the Department of Community Safety in terms of the Western Cape Community Safety Act (WCCSA). These groups have benefitted from training funding and increased accountability since the enactment of the WCCSA in 2013, according to the Department.

Clause 81 Section 6A of the Bill proposes a system whereby members of a community may establish a voluntary neighbourhood patrol or NHW group, which the WCCSA already makes provision for, according to the Department.

Therefore Fritz says that the proposed changes could be at odds with existing provincial legislation.

“A conflict of interest may arise from the NHW accrediting themselves with the Department and registering with the CPF. It is therefore suggested that clear criteria be set for registration,” he said.

The Minister also said that there was no link to farm watches and how they might be linked to a SAPS Reservist system.

“In such a case, SAPS reservists could combine with farm watches to ensure that farm watches have peace officers which guide them in their response,” said Fritz.

Single Policing service

The Department says that a trend among democracies globally is to provide for a decentralised police service that can respond to the needs of a region more effectively and that neither the Bill nor The Constitution preclude the possibility of a provincial police service.

“More discretion in the development of provincial police service or policy should be provided for in this Bill,” said Fritz. “South Africa is a large territory with diverse needs in each of its provinces. A single police service, and a single national policing policy or policing plan is not the best way to address these complex needs.”

The Bill also proposes changes that want to consolidate law enforcement officers into a municipal police service, which could have a major impact on smaller towns in the country, according to Fritz.

“This provision threatens to undermine the tremendous efforts of the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town through the Western Cape Safety Plan, which has deployed an additional 500 law enforcement officers to the most crime afflicted communities,” said Fritz.

“A single police service would mean further centralization of policing in the province and take service delivery away from those who need it most, where and when they need it.”

Picture: GovernmentZA/Flickr

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