Witch hunt or law breakers? Unpacking the City of Cape Town’s anti-crime unit saga
5 October 2017
Cape Town - A formal criminal complaint should be lodged against metro police officers, or special investigators, from the City of Cape Town, if they overstepped the line and did investigative work outside of their mandate, according to Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga.
If this does not happen, the matter will simply be treated as a rumour, he told News24 on Thursday.
“We need for a formal complaint to be laid or it’s a witch hunt,” he said.
'Rumour unless formalised'
If a complaint was not lodged and police were expected to investigate the matter, Mhaga said police would then have to investigate "every single rumour".
African National Congress (ANC) Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs said it was planning to lodge a complaint with police, after he earlier in the week called for Mbalula to shut down the metro police, which he described as a “rogue establishment”.
Jacobs and Mhaga were commenting on details that surfaced from a spat within the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the City of Cape Town. It recently emerged that Mayor Patricia de Lille wanted to have the city’s special investigations unit (SIU) shut down.
Its mandate was changed and its functions streamlined.
The unit was under the leadership of mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services JP Smith, who, through questioning De Lille’s reasoning for clamping down on it, touched on corruption claims relating to her.
De Lille and Smith were this week placed on special leave from the DA as a result of the spat.
On Monday she said she had briefed her lawyers on defamatory remarks Smith had made and they would advise her on what route to take.
The SIU is now named the safety and security internal inspectorate and may not investigate external matters like it previously did.
However, Smith said to claim it was no longer allowed to run investigations as it has been doing for years, means all other specialist units should also cease from external probes.
Smith, in an August 20 communication to, among others, DA leader Mmusi Maimane, said several city units investigated external matters.
He said the metro police gathered crime intelligence and handed this information to SAPS.
According to the Constitution, in terms of intelligence gathering: “Any intelligence service, other than any intelligence division of the defence force or police service, may be established only by the President, as head of the national executive, and only in terms of national legislation.”
However, Gareth Newham, the head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies, explained that the legal definition of “intelligence,” as mentioned in the Constitution, may not have the same meaning as what Smith was referring to.
He said the Constitution referred to “intrusive surveillance” - encroaching on someone’s private space in order to get information, for example, accessing bank accounts.
Passing on information
Newham said Smith was likely referring to “information about crime you can get from open sources”.
An example of this would be a metro police office being approached by someone who says drugs are being kept in a particular house.
“They [the metro police officers] don’t have the mandate to investigate,” Newham said. “They can pass on the information to SAPS.”
He said metro police officers would be acting illegally if they were doing “covert investigations”.
If this had indeed happened, Newham said a criminal complaint could be lodged with police.
The City of Cape Town’s website said the metro police comprises of various units.
This includes a strategic surveillance unit, which constantly monitored 560 cameras throughout Cape Town.
City's profiles on drug dealers
It also included a gang unit.
“We identify gangs and drug hot spots; build profiles of gangs and drug dealers; co-ordinate the execution of integrated search warrants; obstruct gang and drug networks with roadblocks; participate in local drug action committees; and contribute generally to restorative justice,” the website said.
In his August 20 submission, Smith said the city was not prohibited from investigating matters.
He said that several city units did external investigative work including the metal theft unit, vice squad, which helped police in human trafficking cases, and the ghost squad, which targeted drag races.
He said the metro police’s gang and drug task team did “extensive crime intelligence gathering and external criminal investigations”.
This information, Smith said, was handed to SAPS officers.
Police fight crime - De Lille
On Monday, in a statement, De Lille lashed out at him, saying: “We all know that crime fighting is the responsibility of the SAPS under National Government. JP Smith wants to play cowboys and crooks by releasing all kinds of statements that the Metro Police is responsible for fighting crime.
“The task of the Metro Police Department in terms of legislation is enforcement of by-laws and regulations, traffic laws, and crime prevention.”
Last Friday the city issued a statement saying it was discovered the city’s internal investigations unit was exceeding its mandate and investigating criminal matters, which was the mandate of SAPS.