The role of the police in crime prevention: Unpacking the 2016 White Papers on Policing, Safety & Security

The role of the police in crime prevention: Unpacking the 2016 White Papers on Policing, Safety & Security – Blog

The adoption of the 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security and the 2016 White Paper on Policing mark an important shift in conversations around crime and violence in South Africa.

The adoption of the 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security and the 2016 White Paper on Policing mark an important shift in conversations around crime and violence in South Africa.

The recent adoption of the 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security and the 2016 White Paper on Policing mark an important shift in conversations around crime and violence prevention in South Africa. Unlike previous policies, which placed police at the centre of safety, both White Papers advocate for a more integrated and developmental approach to prevention that attempts to confront the underlying causes of crime and violence.

Traditional approaches to safety and security use ‘tough on crime’ tactics that make little to no impact on safety because they fail to address the underlying causes of crime and violence. Recognising the limitations of these traditional approaches prompted policy-makers to look more broadly at the underlying factors influencing crime and violence in South Africa.

Conversations about the need to move away from a police-centric approach to safety and security are not new to South Africa. In 2011, the Department of Social Development (DSD) launched its Integrated Social Crime Prevention Strategy (ISCPS), which aimed to create a framework for facilitating a targeted and coordinated response by government by taking crime and violence prevention beyond the purview of policing, and involve actors at the national, provincial and local level.  

Further, in 2012, the National Planning Commission adopted the National Development Plan (NDP), which identified six priority areas for achieving a safer South Africa:

  • Strengthening the criminal justice system.
  • Professionalising the police service.
  • Demilitarising the police service.
  • Increasing the rehabilitation of prisoners and reducing recidivism.
  • Building safety and using an integrated approach.
  • Increasing community participation in safety.

 

Towards a multi-disciplinary, community-centred response

Accordingly, the ISCPS and the adoption of the NDP prompted the need to re-examine South African policy on safety and security, and realign the 1998 White Paper on Safety and Security with the objectives of the NDP and to promote social crime prevention. In response, the Civilian Secretariat of Police (CSP) developed the 2016 White Paper on Policing and the 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security.

The 2016 White Paper on Police aims to establish a framework for ‘an accountable, professional, competent, and highly skilled police service’, while the 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security promotes interventions to confront risk factors at individual, family, community and societal levels. Accordingly, the two policy directives work together to create an inter-sectoral, multidisciplinary response to crime and violence in South Africa.

The approach to policing espoused in the 2016 White Paper on Policing is one that is demilitarized, community-centred, accountable, and adheres to human rights principles. In this regard, traditional approaches of ‘declaring a war on crime’ and having ‘zero tolerance’ for persons in conflict with the law, often ignore human rights, do not deter crime, and most importantly, do not make people feel ‘safe’.

Additionally, by elevating the importance of a community-centred approach to policing, the 2016 White Paper emphasizes the importance of service delivery, and building sustainable mechanisms for community support and participation.

Victims must be encouraged to report incidents of crime to the police, and obstacles that interfere with a person’s access to critical law enforcement services need to be eradicated in order to effectively curb future incidents of crime and violence from occurring. Further, building an active citizenry is an essential part of creating long-term sustainable delivery of police services in communities.

In calling for a new approach to policing, the 2016 White Paper clarifies the role of police as responders to crime and violence, rather than as eradicators of crime and violence.

Accordingly, the 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security serves as a complementary framework to ensure an inter-sectoral, multidisciplinary response to crime and violence in South Africa because it calls on all of society to make South Africa safer by addressing the underlying causes and crime and violence, and promoting access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities.