Month-end at the IPID: a time for “killing files”?

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At South Africa’s police watchdog, criminal cases against police officers are often “completed” in big pushes at the end of calendar months and reporting years, a data analysis by Media Hack has shown.

This pattern adds weight to 2014 whistle-blower reports, from the Northern Cape provincial office of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), that case completion was driven by the pressure to generate performance statistics, and not by the natural progressions and outcomes of individual investigations.

“There is pressure to ‘shortcut’ investigations in order to make targets for monthly reporting to National Office,” Northern Cape investigators were cited as saying in a site visit report of 2014. “Investigators reported that in the haste to make targets, all work stops at the end of the month and the objective is to ‘complete cases’.”

Other whistle-blower reports described in Viewfinder’s launch article allege that many such cases – including allegations of rape, torture and killings by police officers – were not properly investigated, and pushed to “completed” status to generate performance statistics. IPID’s performance is partly measured by the number of cases it “completes” in a year. Technically, completion means a quality investigation was done. Such a case is ready for prosecutors, who must then decide on whether to take the case forward in court.

IPID’s Strategic Plan requires that it generates monthly, quarterly and yearly reports on how many cases it completes. The deadlines for completion statistics to be included in these reports are the last days of the month, quarter and reporting year respectively. These statistics are finally compiled into the IPID annual report. Annual reports are then presented to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Policing (PCP) around October each year, where IPID’s overall “performance” for the year is assessed.

IPID’s statistics are sourced from its “Master Registers”, which contain spreadsheets that record dates and other details captured when cases are completed. 

Media Hack, on behalf of Viewfinder, analysed IPID’s “completion” registers for six recent reporting years: 2012/13 to 2017/18. Media Hack extracted the 100 days on which the most case completions occurred (see chart).

No less than 95 of these 100 days fell on one of the last few days of calendar months.

Furthermore, 54 of the 71 months analyzed had the most completions on the last working day of a calendar month. There were even times when staff worked on weekends to log completed cases on the case management system.

The trend was most acute at the end of the reporting year, which is the end of March. The final deadline for statistics to be included in annual reports is 31 March of each year. Of the top ten days – the days when the most cases were completed at IPID – four fell between 28 and 31 March. These four days were all from different reporting years: 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16.

IPID issued a statement responding to whistle-blower reports broadcast in a Viewfinder documentary aired on Checkpoint (eNCA) last week. These whistle-blower reports, from 2014 and 2016, alleged that cases were prematurely completed to inflate performance statistics at IPID. Spokesman Sontaga Seisa said that the allegations were “untested” and that the safeguards of “quality control”, “standard operating procedures” and “monitoring” by management ensured that cases were not prematurely completed.

Are you a police brutality victim whose case was poorly handled? Are you an IPID investigator with feedback or info that we should know? Do you have questions about this investigation? We would like to hear from you. Get in touch.

This investigation was supported by the GroundUp newsroom and grants from the Alumni Engagement and Innovation Fund, Taco Kuiper Fund for Investigative Journalism, South Africa Media Innovation Program, Bertha Foundation and Millennium Trust.

Daneel Knoetze wrote this article, and Laura Grant of Media Hack provided the data analysis

Poster design by Alex Noble, with archival photo by Ashraf Hendricks (GroundUp)

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