Thursday, August 6, 2009
Dedicated to Arthur William (Sonny) Cox 1914 - 1980
When society is corrupted
And the social structure is defective
You need more than a cop
You need a detective
To solve all the crime
So that your loved ones
Don't live off borrowed time!
His oath was to protect and serve
According to his standards that's what you deserve
Protection from the state and the powers that be
Human rights alone cannot set you free!
I know the real feeling
I know it well
Because a top detective
Was my father and pal!
To be a true detective is not a profession
But rather a calling from GOD himself!
Copyright ©2009 William Ernest Cox
Dedicated to the USA Troops in Afghanistan
"A hero is not someone
Who gives his life while fighting the enemy
...but rather one who takes
The life of the enemy while fighting!"
We don't want dead hero's
Copyright ©2003 William Ernest Cox
The Work and Career of a Detective
Published in Monograph No 31: Solving Crime, November 1998
In the previous section, it was argued that a police service in a democracy plays three distinctive roles: (i) public reassurance, visibility and patrol; (ii) crowd management; and (iii) criminal investigation. While the distinctions between these categories are by no means clear or consistent, almost all (legitimate) policing activities fall into one or more of them.
Furthermore, given the organisational dictum that structure follows strategy, functional police officers tend to be deployed in units or components whose activities are structured around one or other of these principal functions. Thus police officers can be crudely divided into those who provide services in the realm of public reassurance and crime prevention (uniformed officers at station level), those who police crowds (public order police service), and those who investigate criminal cases (detectives).1
Naturally, these structures do not solely perform their primary tasks. For example, uniformed members can and do play a crucial role in investigating crime and policing collective action or public events, and detectives do help the public in ways unrelated to their investigative work. Nevertheless, the distinction between the various functional structures in the SAPS does broadly reflect the distinctions between the various roles the police are expected to play.
This division of labour is not uncontroversial. Indeed, criminologists have sharply criticised the degree of organisational separation between these elements — not just in South Africa, but in other democracies as well. In essence, they argue that hermetically sealed units specialising in some or other aspect of a broader problem creates an artificial impression that the underlying problems are themselves fragmented. This leads to a fragmentation of effort, with the effect that policing problems are not tackled holistically.
This is further aggravated by the tendency of organisational components to start competing with one another, leading to the perverse effect that, rather than dealing with the problem, internal police dynamics can generate problems of their own. It has also been argued that, in creating a specialisation in investigation and career paths for specialist investigators, the development of distinct and relatively autonomous investigative components within police services undermines the organisation’s unity of purpose.2
The analysis that condemns the internal division of labour between investigation, visibility and crowd management reflects a relatively plausible assessment of police work, which includes the view that the various aspects of policing are (a) interrelated and mutually reinforcing; and (b) that the delivery of the relevant services are not so different that it could not be handled holistically and comprehensively. In terms of this view, not only is the functional division between different elements of policing unnecessary, it is also perverse in that it undermines a society’s capacity to resolve crime problems by creating an organisational division between those who are to provide various aspects of the solution.3 Further, it is this seemingly artificial division of labour and management which is deemed to be behind the competitive and destructive relationship between uniformed members and detectives in South Africa.4
It is, of course, important not to overstate the case for integrating the various aspects of policing. It is clear, for example, that even if all policing functions were integrated into a single command, with each member both capable of, and actually performing, all tasks, the most important social functions in relation to the prevention of crime would still be outside the control of the police.
This seems desirable both from a managerial point of view as well as that of the maintenance of the rights of citizens and the protection of civilian rule. Police officers are typically neither trained nor interested in the delivery or management of other social programmes. As regards the latter, the expansion of the police into social crime prevention must, at some point, begin to mean that the role of the ‘coercive arm of the state’ has exceeded the bounds of acceptability.
If these arguments are correct, there are limits to the extent to which the management, control and delivery of various components of a society’s crime prevention project can be integrated. Thus, before examining the division of labour within policing, it is important to recognise that policing is itself part of a larger division of labour in managing crime.
The division of labour between uniformed members and detectives is based both on differences in the nature of their work as well as the historical separation of members fulfilling different duties. This has contributed to very different experiences of policing, thereby creating and sustaining distinct and competitive police cultures. In South Africa, this division has been heightened by the existence and separateness of the security branch and the internal stability unit/public order police service (ISU/POPS) within the police service.
A detective’s career
Unlike the security branch, which did its own ‘head-hunting’, the criminal investigation division (CID) accepted applicants as well as actively recruited members during the 1970s and 1980s. However, detectives recruited in that period maintain that standards of entry were high. Thus only members of the police who had demonstrated the potential to become solid detectives were allowed to join. They were then put on probation as ‘student detectives’ for six to 12 months,5 during which time three or four probation reports were written on their progress. Older detectives consistently argue that this process was not merely ritualistic and was used to ensure that only people with real potential were allowed to join. Furthermore, because of the nature of probation and the militaristic nature of the rank system, the process served to ensure that members interested in becoming detectives tended to join quite early in their careers, thus avoiding a situation where a student detective was more senior than the commanding officer or other senior detectives in a unit.
Joining the detectives was not always easy. One interviewee recounted that, when a CID commander approached him with a recruitment offer, he had to wage a war of attrition within the police bureaucracy because his station commander was loath to let him go.
Typically, recruitment was into a local branch of the CID. Depending on the size of the station and the establishment in the CID, the branch would be commanded by a warrant officer or officer. Usually, student detectives were given a light workload of relatively minor cases — such as theft from washing lines, theft of bicycles and the like.6 The performance of the detective in completing these cases — taking the statements, visiting the scene, following up evidence, etc — was monitored, as was his or her general aptitude for the job.
Assuming that the prospective detective showed sufficient potential, s/he would be accepted into the CID as a detective — with a rank change to detective constable or detective sergeant — and would receive progressively more difficult cases. Throughout this developmental process, more senior detectives would review the trainee’s work, instructing (as opposed to ‘advising’) on the steps to follow to complete a case. This would include what sorts of evidence to look for, the sorts of statements to take, and the sorts of people to look for as potential witnesses.
Recruitment into the investigative function was facilitated by the extent to which the uniformed members of the SAP participated in criminal investigations. Unlike the present situation, in the 1970s and 1980s the uniformed branch was responsible for certain kinds of investigations. This depended on local practice, crime levels and resource constraints and could include minor assault cases, vehicle accidents and the like. This meant that the CID commander had a basis for assessing the potential of a prospective recruit prior to him/her joining the CID. Furthermore, the organisational culture of the time meant that the CID was able to attract members because of a relative freedom from personal supervision compared to the uniformed branch; improved access to vehicles; working in civilian clothes; etc. These institutional incentives, together with the perceived status of the detectives and investigative work, meant that the CID was generally able to recruit whomever it wanted. These differences also fuelled internal animosity between detectives and uniformed members, with the former perceived as relatively over resourced and undisciplined and the latter as less skilled, less productive, and more rule-bound.7
Having been recruited into a branch of the CID, a detective would typically have one of two basic career paths: remaining in the basic CID structure and progressing within it, or joining a specialised unit and progressing there. In both instances, however, the detective was likely to be transferred a number of times.
Thus, after being recruited to a CID branch on the East Rand in 1965, an interviewee called K for these purposes spent a year on probation before being appointed as a detective. He then spent a few years working on minor crimes before being given more complex and important cases. He notes that the nature of the cases handed to a detective became a reflection of seniority and status. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, he was placed in the elite group at his station, responsible for housebreaking and violent crimes. Apart from the status of such an appointment, detectives in those groups were better resourced, had access to better vehicles, and had better offices. After two or three years K became the head of this group, and stayed in this position before moving to a murder and robbery unit in another part of the Transvaal.
Until then, only the Brixton murder and robbery unit took its own dockets to court, while other ‘field units’ just gathered evidence and made arrests before handing the cases back to the local CID. K’s recruitment was part of a process designed to give the unit in question the capacity to take its own dockets to court.
Then, as now, murder and robbery units did not investigate every murder; they were used only for complex murders involving firearms, or where the victims were white and the suspects either black or unknown. Because other murder and robbery units regarded Brixton as ‘the best of the best’, members of other units competed to receive the same recognition for successful convictions — hence they worked long, hard hours.8
In 1976 K was working in the Soweto murder and robbery unit and was recruited by the security branch which, after the events on 16 June of that year, required experienced investigators to help investigate and prosecute activists involved in the uprising. This culminated in a terrorism trial of 12 people, one of whom was sentenced to death but whose sentence was later commuted.9 But K wanted to go back to fighting crime, so he returned to the CID; he first became a branch commander in a rural town in the Cape Province, and was then transferred to an urban station in the Transvaal. After leaving the police for a period in the 1980s, K returned to the SAPS to resume his career as a branch commander in a major city.
While this story is unique to K, it is typical of the careers of many detectives — especially white detectives recruited into the CID in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Black detectives, on the other and, had a variety of additional obstacles to overcome in the course of their careers. For instance, the fact that many black police officers had fewer scholastic and academic qualifications tended to prejudice them in the promotions system, which placed a high premium on qualifications. Internal policies which prevented black officers of any rank from commanding white officers of a lower rank also meant that room for advancement was limited. This, combined with the common South African experience of black workers receiving less recognition for their achievements than their white colleagues, meant that black police officers were less likely to gain managerial and command experience. Besides these environmental constraints on advancement, black police officers who challenged racism, no matter how ‘diplomatically’, ran the risk of being perceived as ‘politicians’.10
Furthermore, the fact that detectives regarded themselves as an elite means that black police officers would have been less likely candidates than white officers. At the same time, however, all detectives recognise that white detectives, no matter how skilled, are often ill-suited to dealing with black victims, witnesses and perpetrators.
What does a detective do?
Real detective work is very different from the popular accounts in films, fiction or on TV. Generally, cases are not solved with deductive logic applied to complex clues. Nor do they involve undercover work, shoot-outs with gangsters, or dramatic last-minute testimony by witnesses who are either hard to find or require active protection. Most detective work is relatively routine and repetitive. At the same time, different units and groups, working on different kinds of crimes, will use different methods to complete their cases. So while what follows reflects the kind of work typically done by detectives, it is by no means a comprehensive account.
To understand basic detective work it is important to bear in mind that, in terms of South African criminal law, an accused must be linked to a crime beyond reasonable doubt in order to be convicted, and that a crime is deemed to have certain elements which, while they will differ in various instances, deal with the intention and actions of the alleged criminal. Therefore, in order to show that accused X committed crime Y, the state must show that X performed all the required actions and had the requisite intention. In doing this, there are three basic forms of proof: physical evidence, witnesses, and confessions. Different crimes will tend to involve a different mix, but these are the basic ways in which guilt is established, and all detectives use them.
Physical evidence is used both to show the nature of the crime — for example, that the accused is in possession of cocaine, not baby powder — and to link an accused to the commission of the crime. For the latter, although fingerprints are the most common form of evidence, DNA, fibre analysis and other scientific techniques are also used. In many crimes — particularly cases in which the possession of an item is itself a crime — physical evidence is frequently sufficient to obtain a conviction. Witnesses (including, where appropriate, police officers on the scene or making the arrest) and confessions are used to establish both the intention and actions of an accused.
Not unsurprisingly, the degree to which witnesses co-operate with the police depends on the nature of the crime — for instance, witnesses to murders related to taxi conflict are less likely to co-operate for fear of reprisals than some other witnesses. Other factors which can affect the level of co-operation are said to include the relationship of the witness to victim and perpetrator, and the race of detective and witness. In this regard, for instance, white detectives in a major city acknowledged some difficulties in getting black witnesses to co-operate, and reflected that black witnesses usually preferred to make their statements at a police station (out of sight of their neighbours) and in their mother tongue. On the other hand, a black branch commander in a township argued that he needed white detectives because, in some cases, this would help to ensure that the community regarded the investigator as neutral.
One further strategy used fairly commonly are so-called ‘traps’ in which the police, posing as civilians or criminals, buy contraband such as endangered species, stolen and ‘grey’ goods, drugs, unlicensed firearms, etc. Because, as sole witnesses, the police are extremely powerful in such cases, a number of checks and balances have been prescribed to protect the integrity of such operations. These controls are intended to ensure that the accused does not commit the crime solely because s/he is being enticed, and that the police do not act as agents provocateurs in the process. Whether these checks and balances work or not is something that cannot be dealt with here.
Basic detective work
The precise treatment given to any particular crime will depend on its nature, mode of discovery, whether the crime is part of a local crime pattern, and the resources available at station level. In general, however, no matter what the crime, no matter who discovers it and no matter what the resource constraint, all crimes reported to the police must be investigated, and today all investigations are undertaken by detectives.
Detectives work two different sorts of week, although some stations use shorter or longer periods. One week the detective is on stand-by, meaning that it is his or her job to wait for cases to come in and conduct the initial investigations. Their primary duty, however, is to be available for the next case.
Each case they receive while on stand-by will be booked out to them, and they will have to work on it the following week. This is the period in which detectives follow up leads from the initial investigations, and complete their dockets. Within the stand-by system, detectives are often divided into groups dealing with different types of crime — a procedure which, depending on the type of crime, grass-roots detectives both like and dislike.
The bulk of investigative work is done at station level, and the bulk of that is property crime and different forms of interpersonal violence. For instance, in 1997 the SAPS opened more than 2 million cases of which murder, attempted murder, rape, attempted rape and assault made up about 25 per cent and robbery, burglary, stock theft and various other forms of theft another 60 per cent.11 These crimes come to the attention of the police in two basic ways: complaints by the public, or arrests performed in the course of police operations or standard crime prevention work. Of course, these latter operations may often be in response to information obtained from informers and other members of the public, whether anonymous or otherwise.
Arrests made by police officers in the course of their duty are generally related to ‘open and shut’ cases of possession, trespassing or the like, or of criminals caught in the act of committing a crime such as car theft, housebreaking, assault, etc. In such cases the arresting officer will make a statement as to the reasons for the arrest. That, together with other statements and relevant evidence — such as stolen property or contraband — will form the basis for the charge against the accused. Here the role of the detective is to put the docket together, ensure that there is evidence to prove all the elements of the crime, and send the docket to the prosecutor. In the course of doing this, the detective will usually interview the accused, advise him of his rights, and, if possible, obtain a statement as part of the formal charge laid against him.12
When a docket is opened as a result of a complaint laid at a police station by a member of the public, the process is somewhat different, and varies in relation to the nature of the complaint and the information it conveys.
A surprisingly large number of dockets is opened with the identity of the suspect already known. The complainant will, for instance, identify his or her assailant, or the person who allegedly stole property or committed fraud. In such a case the docket, after being registered on the computerised crime administration system (CAS), will be handed to a detective on stand-by duty. He will do some basic work on the docket and perhaps even make the arrest if the information in the docket is clear enough. Indeed, the arrest may be made by a detective on stand-by and only then handed over to another officer assigned to investigate the matter.
In such cases in particular, though it is true of all investigations, the detective’s role is not merely to pursue the conviction of a person alleged to have committed a crime; he is also responsible for finding evidence that the crime has in fact been committed. Frequently, charges will be laid against people who have not in fact committed a crime. In such cases it is the duty of the detective to make sure that charges are well-founded, and that there is prima facie evidence against the alleged perpetrator.
Further, especially in simple fraud cases involving dishonoured cheques and incidents of interpersonal violence, the complainants will sometimes withdraw the charges after resolving the matter or ‘cooling off’.13 In any event, the investigation will be aimed at accumulating evidence which either supports or undermines the charge against the suspect, and will be completed only when a docket is handed to the prosecutor or the case is closed for lack of evidence or because it was unfounded.
None of the above processes bear any resemblance to the portrayal of detectives in popular fiction, because the docket is opened with a clear indication of the identity of the suspect. Obviously, this is not the only manner in which crimes are reported. Many crimes are committed by people who are strangers to the victim. Even when the victim and perpetrator know each other, this may only be established after the crime is reported to the police.
In such cases the role of the investigator is similar to that portrayed in popular fiction: it is the detective’s responsibility to establish what crime was committed and by whom, and to put together sufficient evidence to prove this in court. To this end, the primary sources of evidence are statements by the victims and witnesses, physical evidence, and confessions, as described earlier.
Where a crime has been committed by a stranger — including most property crime and some violent crime — obtaining a conviction is, for obvious reasons, much more complicated. Generally, convictions will only be obtained if there is a description of the perpetrator which links him or her to other crimes (in which he may be more directly identified); physical evidence (fingerprints or bodily fluid) which can be used to tie the perpetrator to the crime; or information from an informer. Frequently a combination of these is required, because a fingerprint is not helpful unless the suspect has a criminal record. It is because these cases are more complicated, and require a higher application of intelligence, that murders committed by unknown perpetrators (especially if they are committed in the course of a robbery) are more likely to be dealt with by a murder and robbery unit with specialised training and information-gathering networks.
Obtaining a conviction for property crime — especially street crime — will typically require either catching the perpetrator in the course of the crime, or finding the perpetrator in possession of stolen property and then getting the victim to identify him or her, or using some piece of physical evidence to tie the perpetrator to the crime. Because the perpetrator of a housebreaking or theft is often unknown, catching him or her, in the absence of luck, requires information. This will usually occur after:
checking pawn shops and receiving information about the person or persons who handed in stolen goods;
an arrest made after seeing something suspicious;
information from an informer or a member of the public; or
an intelligence-gathering operation aimed at certain targets (such as cash-in-transit robbers).14
While all these methods may be used, detectives acknowledge that a low-level thief/robber who neither steals too much nor too frequently will often be able to get away with his or her crimes, and that the number of suspects taken to court reflects the number of criminals rather than the success of policing strategies.
It is for this reason that many cases of property crime are closed with only the most perfunctory of investigations: because there is little real prospect of tracing the suspect on the basis of the crime, all the police will do is enter the details of the stolen property into a computer system and close the docket. This reduces the pressure of open dockets on an investigator’s desk, but allows the docket to be reopened if the stolen property is recovered.
Having put the case together, the investigating officer sends the docket to the prosecutor who may or may not require further evidence to be gathered, including taking additional statements or retaking existing statements. In some cases, investigating officers will also assist the prosecutors in court because they will often be more familiar with the facts — particularly when the cases are relatively complex or important (and where the investigating officers are unlikely to appear as witnesses). However, detectives say they tend to assist prosecutors less than they used to in the past, arguing that it is usually not necessary for a conviction.
Intelligence, undercover work and organised crime
Much has been said about the need for improved crime intelligence, as well as increasing the efficacy of the SAPS in the fight against organised crime. While these two elements of policing do need to be improved, they are not identical. After all, the need for intelligence is not confined to the fight against organised crime. At the same time, however, intelligence work and the investigation of individuals and structures involved in organised crime do overlap in some fields — notably in undercover work.
Undercover work has a long tradition in South African policing, though for much of that time its greatest successes were related to the maintenance of state security.15 But undercover work is an essential part of investigations into two kinds of crime:
so-called ‘victimless crimes’, in which there is likely to be no complainant, such as prostitution, drug-related crimes and corruption; and
investigations into organised crime, in which some of the criminals are not directly involved in the criminal act itself (eg the actual theft of a vehicle).16
In many instances investigations focusing on the former are quite simple processes culminating in a trap. In the latter cases, however, it may be necessary to obtain evidence over a long period against the ‘subjects’, either because there is a need to prove complicity in a number of crimes or to ensure that sufficient information is acquired so that ‘when the net closes, it closes with the big fish inside it’.
Thus, in order to capture important figures in organised crime, it may be necessary to time the final arrest to coincide with a major transaction, so that evidence of the subject’s involvement (and the scale of that involvement) is available. In order to do this, it is essential to have adequate information on the plans and operations of the subjects — a task made more difficult by the fact that major transactions do not occur all that often.
Thus, in order to move against the ‘big fish’, it is necessary to have information and evidence. Information can be obtained in three ways: via electronic interceptions of communication; from informers; and from agents. If recordings of conversations or intercepted mail are to be used as evidence, permission must be obtained for these procedures, and information supplied by an informer or agent can only be used in court if that person is prepared to testify. For that reason the police tend to prefer using agents because, as paid police officers, they are certain to testify. Informers, on the other hand, who are associates of the subjects, usually refuse to testify, or may be discredited when they do.17
However, the use of agents is difficult, time-intensive, and has a limited life span, because once they testify their identities are revealed. Thus imaginative processes need to be designed to lengthen the productive life span of agents. Agents are an organisational response to the need for evidence in the fight against crime — they are primarily tasked with obtaining evidence against certain individuals. However, this process need not be very direct. An officer who has infiltrated some syndicates in a South African city says he was so deeply under cover that he and his handler were able to manipulate police operations run against him into producing evidence in court cases without his having to testify. To this day, he says, the other investigating officers think that their operations against him failed because he was not arrested, but that they achieved their secondary objectives against some of his ‘associates’.18
Despite the potential for this approach, there seems to be a resource constraint on these sorts of operations: they are costly, require high levels of commitment and skill, and, most importantly, require visionary and innovative managers. For this reason, other forms of intelligence work are usually used to help guide investigations into organised crime. The difficulty, however, is ensuring that the intelligence gathered can eventually be used as evidence in court.
These different approaches are often characterised as intelligence work versus investigative work. In South Africa, this distinction is a source of some differences on strategy within the detective service. Essentially, these differences revolve around the manner in which the service should organise the production of both intelligence and evidence, because these categories do not collapse into each other.
Because of the history of the SAPS and its component parts, there are historical differences between individuals who were members of the Security Branch and those who have spent their careers performing the ‘normal’ functions of a police service. In earlier years, the security branch was regarded with suspicion by other members of the police. Indeed, a former member of the security branch related that they were known as the ‘earthworm squad’ because of their reputation for surfacing only to collect their pay. This suspicion was founded on the political and organisational strength of the Security Branch, its better resourcing, and the increased freedom from supervision and control of its members. When, in the 1990s, the policing mandate was transformed, these members — the only ones trained in intelligence work — were deployed in units tasked with policing organised crime.
Detectives, with whom these members began to work, complain that the training, experience and methods of the security branch did not adequately prepare them for their new tasks. This is because the intelligence gathered by the branch was either never intended to be used in court, or was used in political trials using security legislation — in which due process considerations were often excluded by statute, facilitating the conviction of the accused. Thus the intelligence generated by the deployment of former members of the branch was not ‘court-related’, either because of problems of method or because the sources used were of only limited use in combating organised crime.
While the passage of time and the process of acquiring skills and experience has apparently done much to alleviate this problem, old animosities and suspicions still seem to exist. This feature of internal politics is exacerbated by widespread concern about the integrity of individual officers and structures, making the sharing of information between units (and government departments) more difficult and less commonplace.19 In general, however, organised crime investigations are now run on a project basis, with the investigating officer tasking intelligence units with producing the necessary information on individuals and organisations. While some restructuring seems to be taking place, the basic process will remain essentially the same.
Another important investigative strategy revolves around the use of traps to catch criminals red-handed. While the legal requirements and most of the techniques remain obscure to the outsider, a typical form of trap is a ‘buy—bust’ operation in which a dealer in contraband is caught in the act of selling his or her product to either a police officer or an informer. This tactic is heavily relied on by police officers seeking to control street-level drug dealing, for instance.
The process can involve ‘setting up a buy’ from a dealer after getting his or her identity from an informer or in the course of another investigation, or by sending an officer/informer to a point known to be used by drug dealers and having them buy drugs. The suspect is usually arrested immediately after the transaction, because it is vital that he or she should still be in possession of the banknotes used by the buyer — the investigating officer would previously have recorded the serial numbers.
Such operations, though useful in giving law enforcement a presence in drug distribution, are not generally regarded as sufficiently effective to control the drug trade.20 However, this strategy is successfully used to combat a number of types of crime, including the purchase and sale of stolen goods. It is also a technique which can be quite precisely focused on problem individuals or groups.
What makes an effective detective?
Solid investigations require more than the mere existence of a detective service within the SAPS. The following sections detail much of what detectives themselves believe to be vital to their effectiveness. Of the six factors documented, by far the most commonly referred to were the logistical resources available to, and the personal attributes and traits of, the individual detective.
There are currently about 24 000 detectives in the SAPS, divided between stations, specialised units and police intelligence. While a substantial number (45 per cent) had not received basic investigative training at the time this report was compiled, detectives have an average of eight or nine years’ experience (see figure 1). Somewhat more than 50 per cent of detectives are white, with Africans making up most of the rest.21
According to police statistics, these detectives dealt with just more than 2 million newly reported serious crimes in 1997, amounting to an average of nearly 90 cases each; besides this, about 500 000 older cases were still open. While it is impossible to determine conclusively whether these figures are correct, detectives and their commanders frequently complain about staff shortages, arguing that their human capacity has not kept up with the rise in crime or the change in the legal regime governing investigations.
The issue of the number of detectives does not, of course, exhaust the issue of resources, and it is in the area of physical resources that detectives point to severe problems. Indeed, in some areas, such as the former Transkei, detectives talk of little else. They point to the lack of vehicles; that the vehicles they have are either old, ill-suited to the terrain or both; that their offices are falling apart; that their stations lack telephones; and so on. Of course, these constraints affect all detectives to a greater or lesser degree. No detectives are resourced to the point where they feel all their needs are met.
At the same time, detectives have generally been better resourced than their uniformed colleagues. Indeed, it was partly for this reason that many became detectives in the first place. However, detectives point out that their resource requirements are greater then those of their colleagues. A detective, for instance, requires ready access to a vehicle in order to visit crime scenes and witnesses. He or she also needs office space to compile dockets, make phone calls and interview witnesses.
Although there is no scientific basis for this, it seems there is a good case for increasing the resources of the detective service. Given the high level of crime, especially violent crimes, a call for raising the prosecution level of offenders seems to require an increase in the resourcing of detectives. This point will be examined in greater detail in the concluding section.
The supportive role of the rest of the SAPS
Besides the size of the detective service and the physical resources they require to do their jobs, investigators require technical support in a range of areas: legal support in the investigation of cases; forensic and scientific support, including the maintenance of criminal records and fingerprints; specialised support such as surveillance teams;22 artists to build identikit pictures of suspects; etc. In general, detectives seem relatively satisfied with the quantity and quality of these services, although they are concerned about the speed and accuracy of replies to requests for identification of fingerprints.
Perhaps as important are the needs detectives have of the uniformed branch. Typically, when the police are called to a crime scene, it will be the uniformed branch that will be first to respond, either by deploying a patrol van or a rapid reaction unit. The officers who arrive first on the scene have a vital role to play in ensuring that the initial investigation, including the acquisition of physical evidence and taking of statements from witnesses, is successful. Similarly, the detective’s work is enhanced and facilitated if officers staffing the community service centre at the police station or making an arrest are able to take statements adequately. The statements should cover the essential elements of the crime.
While detectives do seem to appreciate the difficulties confronting the uniformed branch, they insist that there is room for improvement. Detectives in major cities, for instance, recognise that uniformed members in patrol vans are often rushing from scene to scene because they themselves are underresourced. The effect is that they are not able to spend the requisite time on the scene, and, in effect, lack ownership of the initial investigation. This has the consequence that the initial police work may not be satisfactory. For instance, physical evidence may be gathered but no record made of where it was taken from; or initial statements may be so confused that they need to be retaken, sometimes well after the event. Detectives also complain that uniformed members will not always accept their instructions at the scene of crime, adding to the difficulties of the initial investigation.
Besides these requirements, detectives would obviously prefer evidence to be secure during the initial and subsequent investigations, and that prisoners do not escape from police cells.
These are not the only requirements that detectives have of the rest of the organisation. Greater intelligence resources would help, as would greater clarity on command and control structures. This latter would reduce the present levels of confusion about who is responsible for detectives at station level.
Given the nature of their work, including the fact that investigating officers must work long hours without being directly supervised by their commanding officers, detectives must be self-managed. Again, this is one of the reasons why some police officers join the detective service in the first place. However, the nature of the work means that it is possible for detectives to get away with not working. While solid management can alleviate this problem — especially if the commanding officer is well informed about the nature and facts of the cases a detective is working on — the reality is that if detectives are unmotivated, uncommitted and unproductive, it is possible for them to slip through the system.
Thus the first requirement of a good detective is that he or she be committed to the job, and be self-disciplined. Besides these qualities, however, a good detective must be persistent and honest, must know the law, have the requisite skills, and must be able to learn. The ability to communicate is also vital, as is a degree of personal authority — the latter being required in order to ensure that witnesses and complainants have confidence in the detective and co-operate willingly. Detectives must also be able to handle people at a crime scene and in other stressful situations.23
Perhaps the most frequently mentioned quality required by a detective, however, is pride — which is all too frequently described through its absence. Almost every respondent stated that members of the organisation did not have enough pride in their work; were not personally committed to the conviction of criminals; or did not do their work efficiently or with an eye to the final outcome. While it is impossible for an outsider to comment authoritatively on this, it seems as if morale in the detective service is at a low point and has been declining for years.
At the same time, good detectives seem to be motivated by a view that crime and criminals are some sort of personal affront. What really seemed to motivate them was a sense of being personally insulted by crimes in their areas. As such, they were motivated by a personal desire to assert their authority and eliminate these insults.
This attitude might be described as a manifestation of a macho police culture which prides strength, confidence and aggression, and it may be concluded that such attitudes are dangerous. In response, it might be unrealistic to expect dedicated investigative work without some sort of personal stake in the process. If it is the case that ‘personalising’ investigative work is necessary, as it probably is, then the question becomes whether and how this can be achieved outside the framework of machismo or a similar ideology.
These issues will have to be examined at some stage in the future. The question of pride will, however, be discussed again in a later section.
Precisely because the work of an investigating officer requires considerable freedom and self-discipline, managing detectives is both easier and more difficult than managing uniformed members. When an individual detective is honest, industrious and self-disciplined and has personal integrity, managing him or her is relatively easy. But when an individual does not have these qualities, management is extremely difficult.
In general, detectives are regarded as poor managers by everyone in the SAPS, including many senior detectives themselves. That said, ‘management’ — in the sense of strategic planning, co-ordination and administration — is not one of the most essential requirements of a commanding officer. This is because most cases are separate entities which do not require too much co-ordinated effort. Thus regarding the commanding officer of an investigative unit as a manager of a business, responsible for co-ordinating the activities of his or her personnel into producing a single product, is incorrect. The branch commander should be regarded more as the administrator of a hospital — ensuring that the necessary support systems and resources are in place so that each individual professional can make decisions about the appropriate course of action in a variety of unique cases. Therefore, the management task has less to do with vision-setting and pursuing a corporate strategy than with ensuring that each individual detective has the support required to take actions that they will decide on themselves.
This analogy, though better than conceptualising the commanding officer as the manager of a company, does fall down in one area: it is the commanding officer’s primary duty to ensure that his or her personnel are equipped with the essential attitude, knowledge and skills, and to transfer such knowledge and skills to them. Thus the commanding officer has a crucial educative or mentoring role.
Success in this role obviously requires that the commanding officer himself has the necessary skills and experience, as well as the ability to transfer these. Traditionally, there are two primary ways in which skills are transferred among detectives: by means of training, and by providing guidance to detectives in the course of their investigations. While the former has an important role, detectives argue that practical guidance is far more valuable than theoretical training (though such practical guidance does require a sound understanding of the basic rules and strategies of detective work).
Training is partly done by periodically inspecting dockets, but the transfer of skills may also require advice and assistance outside of this process. In this, the relationship between a detective and his or her commanding officer is very important. Detectives want and need managers who command respect for their knowledge, commitment and achievements. Indeed, many — though not all — detectives want commanders ‘with hair on their teeth’, commanders who demand and expect high performance and whom ‘underperformers’ fear.
On the face of it, this is quite surprising — one would have expected quite the opposite. Nonetheless, a number of detectives stated that there were many commanders who, being ill-suited to the job, were held in contempt by their staff, with the effect that morale and productivity decline (as does skills transfer). There is no doubt that leaders with authoritarian streaks create difficulties — not least because this has the potential to play into existing problems of racism, when it is used arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner. A more open managerial style may also have positive benefits in terms of morale, productivity and skills transfer — benefits which detectives may not be able to perceive, because such a style differs so much from the common practices of the past.
At the same time, however, the common complaint that managers no longer command the respect of their staff — because they are perceived to lack the requisite skills as investigators and managers — remains a problem which needs to be overcome.
The role of the community
Investigative work is one of the most obvious areas in which the attitude of the community and its willingness to assist the police is a resource to be prized and cultivated. This is also the area where the transition to democracy has the most potential for rapidly improving the quality of dockets going to court, as the legitimacy of the CJS in general and the police in particular improves.
Of course, taking advantage of the potential for increased legitimacy of the police is not the sole responsibility of the detective service. In fact, the nature of the community policing model advocated and adopted in South Africa stresses the role of the police in preventing, as opposed to investigating, crime. This has meant that, to some extent, the willingness of the public to assist investigations depends on the performance of the rest of the SAPS in building police—community relations.
But community attitudes are also shaped by their perceptions of the functioning of the CJS and the police — perceptions shaped more by the media and the comments of politicians and other leaders than by the experience of individuals engaging with the police. Thus, to a great extent, the willingness of members of the community to assist the police is a factor beyond the control of the police, or, indeed, of investigating officers.24
That said, there are a number of avenues which could be explored to help investigators gain the trust and assistance of the community. In this regard, an understanding of community attitudes to the police, perceptions of criminal justice and the nature of South Africa’s diverse cultures appear to be potentially valuable, as is the development of better witness—management techniques.
At present, because of the lack of transport, witnesses living far from court must sometimes be fetched by the investigating officer in order to go to court. Where the officer is unable to do this, as in many rural areas, cases are sometimes struck off the roll simply because the witnesses do not arrive. Managing cases through court and ensuring that witnesses do not arrive simply to see a case remanded may improve the chances that cases will result in convictions. Similarly, the fact that many witnesses fear testifying and its consequences may be ameliorated if the process were better understood.25
The criminal justice system
The last of the key prerequisites for successful investigations is a solid, reliable, legitimate CJS. A CJS which has these attributes will enhance investigations, both by making witnesses and victims feel more confident and by raising morale among investigators.
Surprisingly, given public perceptions that the CJS is collapsing, detectives are generally quite complimentary about the rest of the CJS. They are not, for instance, overly concerned about prosecutors being inexperienced or incompetent. Nor do they think sentences are too lenient — though they do tend to favour the reintroduction of the death penalty, and in some cases of corporal punishment too.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule: investigating officers are convinced that the CJS as a whole is underresourced and that this plays itself out in the inordinate delays between the arrest of a suspect and his or her trial. This, they argue, undermines community confidence, as well as creating a perception in the minds of criminals and potential criminals that the CJS is ineffective. A further concern in this regard relates to the human rights orientation of the courts and the application of laws and rules governing criminal trials, with detectives often voicing the view that the law has become too ‘criminal-friendly’. This is discussed in detail in the next section.
Within each of these core elements there will, of course, be a fairly elaborate division of labour, including the establishment of distinct administrative components.
Frequently mentioned examples of this include the various units involved in combating aspects of organised crime, such as drug- and vehicle-related crimes. In these cases, despite a degree of overlap among various units, the investigations themselves tend to be poorly co-ordinated. In another example, a suspected arms smuggler was apparently simultaneously investigated by the SAPS, NIA, SASS, Military Intelligence, and the Parks Board.
See, for example, D Bayley, Police for the future, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. He argues that policing, given the services it delivers presently and the way in which it is structured, needs to be reformed in order to ensure that it is better able to prevent crime. In line with this, he argues that the division of the organisation into distinct line functions for patrol and investigation is a result of a division between thinking and doing. He argues that:
"In conventional policing, analysis and decision making are regarded as higher-order functions. The brains of policing are concentrated, implicitly, at the top, and this system is reinforced by the rank system. In order for crime and disorder to be anticipated and reduced, however, analysis and decision making must be spread throughout the levels of the police organisation, with each level accepting responsibility for different sorts of decisions." (p 158)
It was this analysis that partially informed the consolidation of the management of the uniformed branch and the CID branch at station level under a station commissioner, when the SAPS was restructured.
Interviewees were inconsistent on whether their probationary periods were six or 12 months, perhaps reflecting differences over time or between units/geographic areas.
A branch commander in a major city said that, as recently as 1990, every effort was made to ensure that a new member of the CID in his station would be given no more than 15 cases. He lamented the fact that his latest recruit was given 68 cases, some of which involved very serious crimes.
It is hard for outsiders to understand the nature of the animosity between detectives and their uniformed colleagues. Perhaps this is due to the outsiders’ preconception that all police officers are engaged in a common fight against crime, and that internal differences should be resolved for the greater good. It is therefore somewhat surprising how entrenched these animosities are; indeed, divisions extend beyond those described here. There is, for instance, animosity between detectives at police stations and their colleagues in specialised units; between specialised units; and even within specialised units there is a less than ideal relationship between investigators and intelligence workers.
K explained that murder and robbery, as the elite, was also responsible for introducing new techniques into South African investigations. He relates, for instance, how he and his colleagues used to laugh at Fred Peach, one of the first members of the police to solve cases using forensic evidence, arriving at crime scenes with a vacuum cleaner to suck up blood and hair samples.
K himself had been in Soweto on 16 June following up a lead in a case he was working on. As members of the police were mobilised and deployed, K and his colleagues joined the Casspirs, and he was involved in shooting incidents. To his surprise and continued dismay, some of the people throwing stones at him were contacts and informers of his. The shootings themselves, he says, were deeply traumatic.
One detective, for instance, who says he had something of a reputation for challenging racism in the SAP in Pietersburg, found himself the object of a security branch probe because an informer had alleged that the karate school he attended was a front for Azapo activities. As a result he was ‘dumped’ at a farm station in the veld. Although these events occurred before he joined the CID, the potential difficulties confronted by black police officers — detectives and uniformed members alike — meant that the route up the detective service, premised as it was on enhanced status and the handling of more important cases, was less accessible.
While police crime statistics are an inadequate measure of the level of crime in a society, they are a far more accurate measure of detectives’ workloads.
While processes of charging arrestees I witnessed were handled sensitively and with a great degree of concern that the arrestee understand the process and his or her rights, I heard numerous stories of how this process was (and is) not always so defensible. Examples of these include the acknowledgement that, in the past, numerous arrestees were not properly informed of the reasons for their arrest; rather, they were told that their arrest was for being ‘lelik op straat’ [ugly in a public place]. Similarly, sometimes arrests did not result in a formal charge. For instance, vagrants in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg would be picked up and simply moved to another area — sometimes as far away as Pretoria. The trauma and distress produced by this is captured by the story of a vagrant who began crying helplessly even though he had been moved only about two blocks.
It is by no means only minor charges that are withdrawn after a ‘cooling off’ period. Rape, for instance, has a fairly high withdrawal rate, but even charges of attempted murder, where victims end up with multiple gunshots, may be withdrawn. Thus one detective working on the Cape Flats reported that the survivors of a gang fight had withdrawn charges after dockets had been opened. He speculated that this was done through mutual agreement between the gang leaders, who did not wish to lose members to the CJS. He said that even if the state had persisted with the case — as it can — it would have failed because the survivors, being the only eyewitnesses, would have perjured themselves, at the risk of a mere R500 fine.
Similarly, another detective noted that in his area, because families often intervened in domestic matters, some very serious charges would be withdrawn in favour of a family or inter-family dispute resolution procedure. Sometimes, complainants were actually bribed to withdraw charges.
Detectives’ attitudes to their informers is a subject worthy of a section by itself. Suffice it to say that this is a form of human relationship characterised by both love and hate in seemingly equal measure. While many cases, and many sorts of crime, virtually require the use of informers, these informers are frequently either associates or competitors of the suspect, or simply in it for the money. Having spent a night with a narcotics detective and an informer he uses frequently, their close personal bond, apparently based on common objectives, was striking.
Undercover work in other fields was generally not very successful. One retired detective said that, when working as a SANAB detective in the 1970s, he had tried to disguise himself in order to trap a drug dealer operating from a local bar. Having no training or guidance in this, he simply bought a wig and walked in the door. Unfortunately, the disguise was so naïve that the bar-tender asked, ‘What can I get you, officer?’ as he sat down.
It is for this reason that an organised crime investigation and an ordinary investigation are distinguished from each other on the basis of the former beginning as an investigation of an individual, and the latter as an investigation of a crime.
There is also a distinction between ‘deep cover’ agents and ‘shallow cover agents’. The former are covert members of the SAPS, with information about them on police administration systems frequently either being false or misleading, while the latter are police officers who are moved from one centre to another and given temporary ‘legends’ [cover stories].
This officer was so deeply under cover that he was approached by corrupt police officers who wanted to sell contraband. Instead, he helped his handler to set a trap using another undercover police officer. The case resulted in three convictions.
This is not a problem unique to the present. A former member of the security branch described how his position as a member of a unit tasked with keeping tabs on the right wing was frustrated by the fact that his commanding officer had well-known right-wing sympathies — which endangered the officer’s sources.
Detectives using this technique in one of South Africa’s cities explained that despite frequent operations mounted in the same area over a long period, there were so many dealers that they could continuously use the same informers to make the deals. This was confirmed by a full-time informer who has been making drug deals on the same streets for two years and is still not recognised by dealers.
As with most quantitative data in the SAPS, there are various sources which yield different results. This figure is taken from an internal report on the training needs of the SAPS entitled Detective training: a basic needs analysis, dated 6 August 1997. However, according to other sources there are between 16 000 and 18 000 detectives. It is possible that these figures include civilian staff employed in the detective service, such as typists and secretaries. The figures definitely include a number of people in administrative jobs. All data given are from the above-mentioned report.
Apparently there are specialised surveillance teams in some areas; however, reflecting the history of the organisation, some of these teams have no African members, making it impossible to follow subjects into townships without being noticed.
A good detective is also something of an independent thinker, often meaning, in the words of one commanding officer, that he or she will have a "‘fuck-you’ file six inches thick" with complaints from senior officers about his or her conduct.
The shaping of community perceptions is, of course, heavily influenced by South Africa’s traumatic history. For obvious reasons, detectives report that obtaining assistance from black communities is frequently more difficult than from their white neighbours. At the same time, it is possible that, as the anger of the white community grows, its members will become more and more resistant to helping the police as the role and effectiveness of policing in post-apartheid South Africa becomes more politicised.
The following incident illustrates the sort of area in which there is room for improvement. In order to identify suspects in an armed robbery, a group of victims was brought to a police station for an identification parade. One of the rules governing such parades is that the witnesses may not discuss the matter or remind each other of the appearance of the perpetrator. Sitting in the room prior to the parade — which in this particular station, because it lacks one-way glass, requires the witness to point out the perpetrator by putting her hand on his shoulder — two African victims were clearly discussing the case in Zulu. The investigating officer told them not to by explaining that, if the suspect was indeed in the parade and was identified, and if the case was taken to court, he might have to testify to the fact that the witnesses discussed the case prior to the parade. If he did so, the case would collapse, the suspect would be freed, and he would know who had identified him. In effect, the detective frightened the witness, potentially scaring her so much that she would refuse to identify the suspect even if she recognised him. As it turned out, the suspect was not identified by any of the witnesses and was freed.
....."To have been a true detective was a calling, not a comfort zone!".....