The Civilian Secretariat for Police’s Green Paper on Policing: Some issues

This brief looks at the Policing Green Paper and highlights the areas of concern identified by the Helen Suzman Foundation.

The Helen Suzman Foundation has submitted comments on the Civilian Secretariat for Police’s Green Paper on Policing [1]. The Green Paper (GP) can be downloaded HERE. And the HSF’s full submission can be viewed HERE.

The Green Paper

The GP acknowledges a number of important problems, for example: the need for specialized units where they are required -- the need to re-establish the Family, Child and Sexual Offences (FCS) Units is acknowledged. The prevalence of corruption within the police is acknowledged.  The need for gender parity within the SAPS is acknowledged. Suggestions from the National Development Plan are incorporated. The need for better training, better information gathering, and better and smarter deployment of resources is acknowledged.  The GP is sober about assessing the challenges that face the police service. The GP attempts to provide context whenever a problem is framed. Overall the intention is very good. The GP is a genuine attempt to start the discussion around improving policing. This means improving: accountability, oversight, training, transformation, information, effectiveness, and responsiveness. The HSF agrees that these are all important goals.

General Comments

The GP’s credibility is undermined by the fact that -- while making numerous references to research -- the GP includes no reference list. This is unacceptable.  The GP, furthermore, does not take great care to clarify technical terminology. Terms like “policing”, “crime prevention”, “crime fighting” and “combating”, and “law enforcement” are not used with clarity or consistency. It is, for instance, left open to what extent the police service is responsible for ‘crime prevention’, and to what extent this term relates to ‘crime fighting’ and ‘policing’. Other terms like “intelligence”, “information”, “crime information”, and “crime risk information” are left open to conflation.

Directed Comments

The GP has a narrow focus on centralisation of command-and-control structures. It is partly based on the assumption that centralisation necessarily entails efficiency, and that centralisation necessarily entails better oversight. Unfortunately, these premises are taken for granted, and they need to be justified.

The GP raises concern over a “fragmented police service”.  The GP raises alarm that the metropolitan police structures do not fall under the SAPS chain-of-command. The GP argues that this poses “serious risks to our democracy”. However, this is not demonstrated, but taken as self-evident.

The GP goes on to endorse the idea that municipalities should establish local crime prevention strategies: “Decentralisation” in the context of ‘crime-prevention’ is encouraged. However, simultaneously, a “fragmented police service” is identified as a threat to democracy.

The GP mentions the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation and the need for its structural autonomy. The HSF suggests that -- in the light of our concerns over the GP’s thrust towards greater centralisation and a single police service -- the importance of truly independent agencies in the fight against corruption ought to be emphasized and acknowledged.

While the GP does raise concern over the blurring of lines between what is relevant to state security (national security Intelligence) and what is relevant to law enforcement  (law enforcement Intelligence),  the GP does not acknowledge important issues like citizen privacy; what types of information is stored; how this information may be used (and for what purpose); by whom this information may be used (and under which circumstances); and how this information is protected against misuse and access by unauthorized persons or hackers.

The GP proposes that close attention should be paid to the restructuring processes that led to the closing of highly effective specialized units. Despite this concern, the GP’s general policy thrust indicates a similar obsession with stream-lining and control.

The need for a clear formulation of what the police service is responsible for and where that responsibility stops is discussed in the GP, and how, in the light of this, expectations ought to be managed and incentives ought to be augmented. Unfortunately inconsistency exists between what the GP argues falls within policing’s domain and what the GP argues must fall under the police’s command-and-control structures.

The GP defends the use of military ranks.  The GP bases its endorsement on a flawed premise that the use of military ranks necessarily entails greater discipline and control. This needs to be demonstrated. While the HSF does not believe that the use of military ranks equates to militarisation -- this process would entail more than a rank-system -- the risk exists that the use of military ranks could serve to alienate the police from civilians and instil an unhealthy power relationship between the police and the public they serve. Judge Azhar Cachalia (of the Supreme Court of Appeal), in his keynote address at an HSF Symposium on the Delivery of Criminal Justice, warns about the risk of creating  an ‘authoritarian culture’ among police officers.


The GP fails to provide either “concrete policy principles” or “targeted solutions to specific crimes”, beyond what could be considered a “broad policy thrust”. While the HSF understands that a fully-fledged discussion of policy is not the purpose of the GP, the GP must be built upon a solid base. This means appropriate care in argument and sufficient detail to allow a constructive discussion around policy.
The HSF has suggested that the GP include a reference list and a list of definitions (or that greater care is taken to clarify technical terminology). Furthermore, the HSF has raised concern over the following topics:

  • the over-extension of command-and-control structures;
  • centralisation;
  • the importance of establishing truly independent agencies in the fight against corruption ;
  • the nature and procedures associated with the gathering, use, and safe-guarding of sensitive information and Intelligence;
  • the on-going restructuring of the Police service; and
  • the GP’s endorsement of the use of military ranks.



[1] Government Gazette, 18 June 2013
[2] The Helen Suzman Foundation’s ‘Delivering Justice: Symposium Series’ (2011),  Part Two: Criminal Justice


Wim Louw --
Helen Suzman Foundation