Functions Of South African Police Service

By | December 18, 2021

Functions Of South African Police Service, Law-enforcement services in South Africa fall under the Department of Police, which is responsible for policy determination, direction and overall execution of the department’s mandate in relation to relevant legislation.

The National Police Commissioner answers directly to the Minister of Police. Entities reporting to the Minister of Police are the:

  • Civilian Secretariat for Police
  • Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID)
  • South African Police Service (SAPS)
  • Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority.

South African Police Service

The SAPS derives its powers and functions from section 205 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996 and from the SAPS Act of 1995. This legislation regulates the police service in terms of its core function, which is to prevent, investigate and combat crime.

The National Commissioner heads the SAPS. Deputy national commissioners (under whom the divisions and components of the SAPS fall) and provincial commissioners (under whom the police stations fall) report to the National Commissioner.

The SAPS’s policing objectives, in accordance with the provisions of Section 205 of the Constitution, are to:

  • prevent, combat and investigate crime
  • maintain public order
  • protect and secure the inhabitants of South Africa and their property
  • uphold and enforce the law.

The vision of the SAPS is to create a safe and secure environment for all people in South Africa.

The mission of the SAPS is to:

  • prevent and combat anything that may threaten the safety and security of any community
  • investigate any crimes that threaten the safety and security of any community
  • ensure offenders are brought to justice
  • participate in efforts to address the root causes of crime.

The National Development Plan (NDP) complements the Constitution by emphasising the form of policing that is required in a democratic South Africa.

The NDP denotes “Building Safer Communities” as a key objective and establishes the following as the vision for the country by 2030: “In 2030, people living in South Africa feel safe at home, at school and at work, and they enjoy a community life free of fear. Women walk freely in the streets and children play safely outside. The police service is well-resourced and professional, staffed by highly skilled officers who value their work, serve the community, safeguard lives and property without discrimination, protect the peaceful against violence, and respect the rights to equality and justice.”

The NDP sets five priorities for the achievement of the above vision:

  • Strengthen the criminal justice system
  • Make the police service professional
  • Demilitarise the police
  • Build safety using an integrated approach
  • Build community participation in safety.

Chapter 12 of the NDP details the need to build safer communities in South Africa through a holistic view of safety and security. Outcome 3 (all people in South Africa are and feel safe) of government’s 2014-2019 Medium Term Strategic Framework gives expression to this and is aligned with the crime prevention and investigation operations of the Department of Police.

In this regard, the department’s focus over the medium term will continue to be on: strengthening the implementation of recovery plans for visible policing, detective services and service terminations; enhancing operational capacity for public order policing; and combatting gender-based violence (GBV), serial murder and serial rape through implementing the minister’s six point plan on GBV and implementing the new standardised policy on the investigation and management of serial murder and serial rape.

Addressing these priorities lays the groundwork for a police service that is responsive to the safety and security needs of society, and upholds a high standard of conduct and professionalism.


At the end of March 2018, the establishment of the SAPS was 193 297, including 150 791 SAPS Act members and 42 506 Pubic Service Act members, compared to 194 605 personnel, at the end of March 2017.

The police/population ratio at the end of March 2018, was 1:375. During 2017/18, the average employee turnover rate was 2,7%. This represents a marginal increase of 2,4%, compared to 2016/17.

Resignations contributed the most towards the number of exits recorded, in the 2017/18 financial year, followed by retirements. Resignations increased from 1 889, recorded, in 2016/17 to 2 039, in 2017/18.

The most prominent reasons for employees resigning from the service, is due to more lucrative work prospects, including better compensation opportunities. Retirements increased from 1 331, in 2016/17 to 1 412, in 2017/18.

By the end of 2016/17, the SAPS had 52 385 transport assets, which consists of 48 337 vehicles, 1 040 motorcycles, 49 aircrafts, 136 boats, 142 pieces of machinery (e.g. forklifts) and 2 681 trailers. There were 1 146 police stations countrywide.

Enhancing operational capacity for public order policing

In response to the recommendations of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, in April 2016, the Department of Police appointed an independent panel of experts to review and amend all prescripts relevant to public order policing to adopt international best practice.

Among the preliminary findings from the review was that the use of police force in public order policing needs to be reviewed, and that the department needs to invest in people and not focus only on technological advancements.

Accordingly, over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework period, the department planned to implement the findings of the panel of experts to strengthen its capacity for public order policing.

Key priority areas included training 6 770 officials in public order policing in 2017/18, and procuring specialised equipment such as aircraft cameras, video and recording equipment, water cannons, and armoured vehicles.

Combating GBV, serial murder and serial rape

Building on the Back to Basics approach to policing, which focuses on improving police performance and conduct, the Minister of Police introduced a Six-Point Plan in August 2017 that outlines the code of conduct and procedure to be followed by police officials when dealing with cases relating to violence against women and children.

The plan is being used as a concise guide for police officials and communities across the country to create awareness.

Forensic Science Services and Criminal Record Centre

The function of the Criminal Record Centre is to identify and confirm any previous convictions of suspects in crimes being investigated by the SAPS.

The Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management arm expanded its frontline service delivery capacity to make it more accessible to local investigating officers and to improve response times in attending to crime scenes.

The forensic science laboratory renders a support service to investigating officers by analysing physical evidence collected from various crime scenes.

Crime situation

Serious crime comprises contact crime, contact-related crime, property-related crime and other serious crime. To ensure that all people are and feel safe in South Africa, enhanced police visibility and targeted crime-prevention operations are intended to deter and detect prevailing threats.

Serious crime reduced by 4,3% from 1 745 385 reported serious crimes, in 2016/17 to 1 670 574, in 2017/18. Crimes against women indicated an increase of 2,7% from 172 961 in 2016/17 to 177 620 by the end of March 2018. A decrease of 0,7% for crimes against children was recorded from 43 842 reported crimes,

in 2016/17 to 43 540 reported crimes, in 2017/18. Reported crime for unlawful possession and dealing in drugs, increased by 10,5% from 292 689, in 2016/17 to 323 547, in 2017/18.

Drug-related crime are usually not reported to the police, but is largely dependent on the deployment of law enforcement personnel and the employment of intelligence for detection.

Drug eradication

Increased illicit drug use and alcohol consumption, are some of the main contributors to the perpetration of violent crime.

The SAPS continued representation on the Central Drug Authority and oversees the implementation of the Departmental Drug Master Plan, which includes activities dealing with both national and transnational aspects of drug trafficking, law enforcement and the combating of substance abuse.

Numerous and significant illicit drug seizures, by authorities at international airports and at ports of entry, points to South Africa being considered a lucrative market for international drug syndicates. The successes achieved with the dismantling of clandestine drug laboratories locally, also indicate that the drug market in South Africa is not solely supplied by international sources.

The South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau (SANEB) dismantled a total of 53 clandestine laboratories, during 2017/18 compared to 45 in 2016/17. Furthermore, the SANEB has succeeded in drug seizures valued at R238.6 million, ranging from cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, methaqualone, methacathinone, heroine, nyoape and ecstasy.

In 2017/18, the SAPS sized 216 654,278 kg cannabis, 864 451 Mandrax tablets, 392 945 kg crystal meth (Tik-Tik), 77 444 kg cocaine and 546 500 kg heroine. More than 20 000 kg of cannabis were confiscated in each of the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Northern Cape.

The majority of Mandrax tablets, 60,94% were confiscated in the Western Cape (526 798 tablets), followed by the Eastern Cape (95 699 tablets or 11,07%), the Northern Cape (67 245 or 7,78%) and the North West (61 049 or 7,06%) and 85,39% or 466 680 kg of the heroine were seized in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Western Cape recorded 292 364 kg (74,40%) or of crystal meth (Tik-Tik) seized. During this period, the majority of drugs were confiscated in small quantities from users and sellers, whilst major drug busts were recorded in 2016/17.

Although drug seizures indicate a decrease, more drugs (cocaine, crystal meth (Tik-Tik), dry cannabis and ecstasy) were seized at South African borders in 2017/18 compared to 2016/17.

Vehicle crime

From 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, a total of 63 839 vehicles were reported stolen or robbed.

From this figure, a total of 45 136 (70,70%) were reported stolen and 18 703 (29,30%) were reported robbed.

In 2016/17, a total of 47 768 (70,91%) vehicles were reported as stolen and 19 597 (29,09%) were reported as robbed. There was an overall decrease of 3 526 (5,23%) reported cases compared to 2016/17. A total of 27 747 stolen and robbed vehicles were recovered.

This figure includes 22 093 identified vehicles, 5 499 unidentified vehicles and 155 vehicles recovered during cross-border operations.

Visible policing

The Visible Policing Programme comprises of the Crime Prevention, Border Security and Specialised Interventions Subprogrammes, which are managed by the Visible Policing and the Operational Response Services divisions.

The Visible Policing Division provides direction on the effective combating of crime, through the provisioning of a visible policing service. The purpose of the Division is to discourage all crime, by providing a proactive and responsive policing service, striving towards the reduction of crime levels and to instil community confidence in the SAPS.

The division renders its services by developing, implementing, monitoring and executing regulations, policies and acts. The four components of the Division are Proactive Policing Services, Firearms, Liquor and Second-Hand Goods (FLASH) Services; Rapid Rail and Police Emergency Services and Social Crime Prevention.

Crime intelligence

The Crime Intelligence Division within the SAPS is responsible for the gathering, centralisation, integration, management and coordination of intelligence.

Legislative prescriptions require the division to confine all its intelligence activities, which are related to crime and/or criminal activities.

The division offers essential support to all operational divisions within the SAPS, to address crime, stability and related activities, with the ultimate purpose of neutralising threats to public safety.

Crime Intelligence conducts its intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis and supplementary activities within strict legal and regulatory parameters, with due regard to the constitutionally protected rights of individuals.

Victims, women and children

The main responsibility of the SAPS towards empowering victims is to render a victim-friendly service to all victims of crime. It includes:

  • developing, monitoring and implementing policies, directives and instructions aimed at improving services to victims of crime
  • sensitising and training SAPS members to render a professional, victim-friendly service
  • ensuring that SAPS facilities are victim-friendly.

Community partnership programmes

Community policing forums at police stations serve as the instrument for ensuring that the SAPS engages and cooperates with communities.

Independent Police Investigative Directorate

The function of IPID is to ensure independent oversight of the SAPS and the municipal police services (MPS), conduct independent and impartial investigations of identified criminal offences allegedly committed by members of the SAPS and the MPS, and make appropriate recommendations.

The IPID Act of 2011 grants the IPID an extended mandate and changes the focus of the its work from a complaints-driven organisation to one that prioritises the investigative function.

The Act further places stringent obligations on the SAPS and MPS to report matters that must be investigated by the directorate and ensure the implementation of the disciplinary recommendations of the directorate.

High-impact cases include, but are not limited to, corruption, systemic corruption, death while in police custody, death as a result of police action, rape by a police officer whether on or off duty, and rape while in police custody.

The directorate’s focus on high-impact cases over the medium term will ensure that it is able to deal effectively with cases that are generally more complex to investigate. This is also expected to decrease the likelihood of the occurrence of other criminal offences by the police, such as assault, torture and discharge of an official firearm, which the directorate has a legislative obligation to investigate.


The Department of Defence (DoD) derives its mandate from Section 200 of the Constitution, the Defence Act of 2002, as amended by the Defence Amendment Act of 2010, the 1996 White Paper on Defence and the 2015 South African Defence Review.

The department is required to provide, manage, prepare and employ defence capabilities that are commensurate with the needs of South Africa.

Over the medium term, the department intended to focus on sustaining South Africa’s defence capabilities, safeguarding South Africa’s borders and territorial integrity, and implementing the maritime security strategy. The department also planned to participate in peace support operations, internal operations, and expanding and maintaining infrastructure.

The primary role of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is to defend South Africa against external military aggression. In this regard deployment in an internal policing capacity is limited to exceptional circumstances and subject to parliamentary approval.

The SANDF’s core mandate is the protection of the country, its territorial integrity and its people.

The 2015 South African Defence Review provides a policy for South Africa’s defence trajectory over the next 20 to 30 years. The review proposes a number of milestones, the first of which is aimed towards arresting the decline in critical defence capabilities.

This is expected to be achieved by focusing on a number of core measures and deliverables, such as conducting priority defence missions; and setting up measures to improve efficiency, sustainability and capability.

As a sovereign state, South Africa has a duty to safeguard its borders against the possibility of transnational crime, international crime syndicates and cartels, the illegal flow of undocumented migrants, and illicit economic activities. Over the medium term, the department planned to deploy 15 landward sub-units along South Africa’s borders with Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia.

Peace support

Peacekeeping missions are a critical element to respond to conflict, prevent conflict and deter potential aggressors. The department also contributes to domestic safety and security by conducting internal operations such as border safeguarding and operations in support of other government departments. The department also plans to focus on preparing and deploying the SANDF for the 2019 national elections.

Maritime safety and security

Over the next three years, the South African Navy plans to conduct maritime border patrols and combat piracy in the Mozambique Channel.

A suite of surface (frigates), sub-surface (submarines) and offshore patrol vessels will be deployed to keep South Africa’s maritime space safe and support the execution of the SADC’s maritime security strategy.

The department aims to maintain the number of hours at sea per year at 12 000 until 2018/19, after which they are expected to decrease to 10 000 to align performance with the reduced budget.

Department of Military Veterans (DMV)

The DMV derives its mandate from the Military Veterans Act of 2011, which requires the department to provide national policy and standards on socio-economic support to military veterans and to their dependants, including benefits and entitlement to help realise a dignified, unified, empowered and self-sufficient community of military veterans.

Over the medium term, the department planned to continue delivering key benefits such as housing, education, training and skills development, and access to healthcare to military veterans and their dependants.

The department also planned to amend legislation and develop policies to improve the services it provides to military veterans and their dependants.

Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor)

The mission of Armscor is to meet the acquisition, maintenance and disposal needs of the DoD and other clients in terms of defence matériel, and related products and services.

The corporation maintains strategic capabilities and technologies, and promotes the local defence related industry, ensuring that the SANDF receives quality equipment to carry out its mandate.

To maintain competitiveness, the corporation aims to acquire capital assets such as armoured vehicles and helicopters in an economically viable manner.

Denel Group of South Africa

Denel is a state-owned commercially driven company and strategic partner for innovative defence, security and related technology solutions. It groups together several defence and aerospace divisions and associated companies.

Denel provides turn-key solutions of defence equipment to its clients by designing, developing, integrating and supporting artillery, munitions, missiles, aerostructures, aircraft maintenance, unmanned aerial vehicle systems and optical payloads based on high-end technology.

Intelligence services

The State Security Agency’s (SSA) mandate is to provide government with intelligence on domestic, foreign or potential threats to national stability, the constitutional order, and the safety and well-being of its people. This enables government to implement and improve policies to deal with potential threats and to better understand existing threats.

The SSA comprises:

  • the Domestic Branch (formerly the National Intelligence Agency)
  • the Foreign Branch (formerly the South African Secret Service)
  • the Intelligence Academy (formerly the South African National Academy of Intelligence)
  • National Communications, which includes the former National Communications Centre, Office for Interception Centres and Electronic Communications Security (Pty) Ltd.

The SSA focuses on matters of national interest, including terrorism, sabotage, subversion, espionage and organised crime.


Part of the SSA’s objective is to be able to conduct vetting for all government departments in a user-friendly and speedy manner, in line with its counter-intelligence mandate that ensures that
the department creates conditions of security, which enable government and key state entities to do their work.