Solving the gang problem in the Western Cape would not happen overnight, Parliament’s police portfolio committee heard yesterday.
“A holistic approach to the gang problem by all government departments is needed to help solve the problem,” civilian police secretary Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane said.
Irish-Qhobosheane said the entire economy of the drug trade, from which gangs make their money, needed to be dealt with.
“Some gangs see themselves as an alternative to local government. We need to look at economic interventions from local, provincial, and national government… If we really want to shut their businesses down, then we need to create more opportunities for people living in these areas.”
Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer echoed Irish-Qhobosheane’s sentiments. He shot down renewed calls from opposition MPs for the army to be deployed to affected areas, insisting his officers were dealing with the problem.
“Our successes have seen the displacement of gangsters. Many move out of the area, some to more rural areas. The Vredenburg police station [on the Cape West Coast] has reported an influx of criminals into the area recently.”
Lamoer said the gang problem was under discussion at government’s justice, crime prevention and security cluster, but more departments needed to be involved.
Asked whether detective capacity and huge case loads were to blame for gangsters not being jailed, Lamoer said this was not the problem.
“We’re not seeing detectives being overloaded (with dockets), they are docket collectors and they’re not investigating. Some of the cases should have been finalised.”
Lamoer said because other detectives were doing their jobs effectively and solving cases faster, those who were not were being monitored.
The police commissioner listed a number of factors hampering progress in rooting out gangsterism. These included the stranglehold gang bosses had on local residents, mostly through intimidation and threats.
“I spoke to a 15-year-old girl recently. She was recruited by gangs to become a sex slave. When she tried to leave they showed her a picture of her mother standing at a bus station,” Lamoer said.
Another problem was the release of gang bosses from jails after serving their sentences.
“They come out and reclaim their space.”
On corruption, Lamoer said some interventions were being implemented.
“We’re seriously considering rotating officers between police stations. We’ve already done that at the courts because of the high number of escapes.”
A common complaint from gang-infested areas was that gang bosses were in cahoots with corrupt police officers.
“We need to inject new life in police stations.”
Lamoer said this intervention was planned specifically with regard to “Project 23?.
“The SA Police Service has identified that more than 50 percent of crimes in the province happen in 23 police districts,” Lamoer informed the committee.
MPs gave Lamoer seven days to provide them with more detail on the number of officers being investigated for corruption, and the progress of cases against notorious gang bosses.
The civilian police secretariat supported police in their efforts.
“We believe police do have the capacity, but we need to strengthen it in some areas, Irish-Qhobosheane said.
She pointed out the gang and drug problem was not unique to South Africa.
“It’s an international problem. There’s an international increase in the drug problem. We’re also seeing that impact.”
She advocated the disarming of gangsters.
“As the recent small arms survey suggests, there are two million weapons in the hands of organised crime syndicate members, internationally. In the Western Cape, we also need to remove the guns from gangs.”