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Sunday, 10 August 2008

Government admits: Crime is winning

Lizel Steenkamp, Rapport

Cape Town - Government has for the first time admitted it was overwhelmed by crime.

Deputy Minister of Justice, Johnny de Lange, told Parliament on Tuesday that the fight against crime was hopelessly paralysed by mistaken policy decisions, unprofessional personnel and a massive shortage of resources and accountability.

The criminal justice system was ineffectual as it was "fragmented, dysfunctional and tainted by backlogs".

He made this admission while presenting a review of the criminal justice system to the portfolio committees on justice and safety and security. "The situation is sometimes so overwhelming that we don't know what to do about crime. We have not necessarily taken the right decisions over the past 15 years or used resources efficiently. We have to brace ourselves now."

De Lange warned that the police, courts and prisons immediately had to be revamped according to a seven-point plan. A lengthy study of statistics and visits to courts and detective branches had shown shocking shortages.

Shocking stats

These included:

- A huge percentage of the two million crimes reported annually were never solved. A "significant amount" of cases were thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence or charges being withdrawn

- Half of the two million crime scenes were never visited, due to too few experts able to collect evidence. Police have 2082 experts to search for clues on crime scenes. This means every expert has to visit three scenes daily. They have too little resources: every two experts share a car, five have to share a cellphone and three share a compute.

- Police have only 1033 forensic experts to analyse evidence in labs

- There are only 54 forensic experts to analyse blood samples in drunken driving cases. The backlog is "grotesque"

- There is a huge shortage of detectives. Only 21 700 of the 130 000 police members are detectives. They too, share resources like computers, cars and phones

"This means only 15% of the police's total workforce is focused on solving crime. This system suffers of a lack of oxygen and is the result of insufficient policy decisions," said De Lange.

In courts, the situation is as bad.

- More than 700 000 cases are annually thrown out or withdrawn

- Only six cases per month are on average concluded in every court in the country

- District court are only in session for three-and-a-half hours a day

- There is a 17% vacancy in the State prosecuting department

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