The police service has a deficit of 62 000 officers, National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole said on Tuesday as he and Police Minister Bheki Cele presented the crime statistics for 2017/18.

Cele, addressing the media after a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Police, described the statistics as “scary figures” and with candour unusual for a politician admitted: “We’ve dropped the ball.”

Cele said he was not going to bother with the question of who dropped the ball, the important thing now was to pick the ball up and come up with a new game plan.

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After the statistics were presented to the Portfolio Committee on Police, several MPs raised the matter of understaffing in the service.

Cele said in 2010 there were 200 000 police officers. There were currently about 190 000, and the population had since grown. He said the South African population was about 54 million in 2010 – it was now about 57.3 million.

Sitole added that the figure didn’t include the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Plans to increase police numbers

He told the committee that according to the United Nations’ best policing practice, there should be one police officer for every 220 citizens.

“South African police are looking after double the figure,” he said, as in South Africa, there is a police officer for every 383 people.

Sitole said according to the business case they have developed for the police, there is a “deficit” of 62 000 officers.

Plans are afoot to increase the police force.

Sitole said the intake of officers had been increased from the planned 3 000 in this financial year to 5 000 after consultation with Cele.

He said the country’s police colleges could take up to 7 000 entrants, and that that was what the service would consistently aim for until the gap was closed.

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Hawks’ wings ‘clipped’

At the media briefing, Cele said government’s security cluster, “for some reason”, hadn’t been meeting for the past two years.

“Maybe that is part of dropping the ball,” he said.

He said the cluster was now meeting regularly.

“It looks like somebody made sure the Hawks are not hawks,” he said, without identifying anyone. “Somebody with big scissors clipped their wings.”

He said they were now working on putting those wings back.

In the committee meeting, DA MP Zakhele Mbhele questioned the police’s priorities regarding the use of their resources as, according to the DA’s calculations, the police spend R9,1 million annually on each of the VIPs they protect, versus R1 500 per citizen.

– News24