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Cape Town mayor calls for more policing powers for city’s enforcement unit

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Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has written to the Police and Justice ministers calling for more policing power for the city’s enforcement unit.

In a letter dated 24 April, Hill-Lewis called for Bheki Cele and Ronald Lamola to amend the South African Police Service (SAPS) Act definition of criminal investigation to specifically include municipal law enforcement; to extend more peace officer powers to municipal officers to combat serious offences, including gang, gun and drug crime; and to give metros a bigger say in setting local policing policy by including metro-specific policies in the National Policing Plan, as per Section 206 of the Constitution.

“We are investing to grow our policing resources, with firearm-related arrests up by 35% in 22/23, with law enforcement also doubling annual drug arrests from 4000 to 8000 over the same period,” Hill-Lewis said.

He said expanding the powers of municipal law enforcement to investigate crime is a simple way to immediately help SAPS fight crime and gain more convictions.

“We welcome the Police Portfolio Committee’s support for this idea. I have again written to the Ministers of Police and Justice this week to call for three simple reforms that will allow our well-trained officers to help better SAPS fight gang, gun and drug crime in Cape Town especially,” said Mayor Hill-Lewis.

He said it was “increasingly irrational” for national ministers to ignore the city.

“SAPS data shows a detection rate of just 12% in 2022/23. We can immediately boost convictions and put more criminals behind bars by giving our well-trained, capacitated officers the power of investigation to build winnable case dockets.”

“What we want does not require a Constitutional amendment. Our request is easy to do right now, and would make an immediate positive difference to crime in South Africa and especially in the city,” he said. 

In August 2021, the city submitted formal proposals to the ministers to expand the peace officer powers of its enforcement staff.

“This followed the initial expansion of peace officer powers by the Minister in 2018 due to the efforts of the City of Cape Town and the Institute for Municipal Public Safety of South Africa (IMPS-SA),” said Alderman JP Smith, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security.

Hill-Lewis said the under-resourcing of SAPS, and particularly the lack of basic equipment such as radios for Cape Town’s Anti-Gang Unit was concerning.

“Think what it means to respond to a live fire situation in the middle of gang warfare, and not even be able to speak on the radio to your colleagues in the next street or even in the next house. It is amazing to me that this is not a national scandal.” 

“We have 19 radios we can immediately avail to this critical SAPS unit, and the city will be in a position to make a further 500 radios available to other SAPS units in the near future. The city’s own Gang and Drug Task Team has been equipped with all the tech they need, as have all our other policing units, but without proper policing powers we are forever fighting an uphill battle here.”

Smith said the Safety and Security Directorate offered police the use of 500 hand radios in January this year.

“We became aware of the challenges they were experiencing with the radio network and we are keen to be of assistance to SAPS as they are the lead agency in the fight against crime and our valuable partners in crime prevention – their successes are our successes,” he said.

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