JOHANNESBURG - The police’s specialised Investigative Psychology Section is on the verge of collapse.
Following a recent resignation, there is now only ONE remaining clinical psychologist who can offer forensic services, left in the South African Police Service.
This crucial unit has been haemorrhaging staff amid complaints about salaries, massive caseloads and no promotions.
Specialised cog in the criminal justice system
Hayden Knibbs left the SAPS Investigative Psychology Section as a Lieutenant-Colonel on Tuesday.
He’s also served as a clinical psychologist in the defence force.
His role adds value at the prosecution phase of certain criminal cases by painting a picture of information that's not readily available to the court.
About 80-percent of the psychologists' time is spent in courtrooms advising prosecutors on some of the most inconceivably terrible, psychologically-motivated criminal cases.
This, in turn, assists with vital decision making, which may vastly alter the outcomes.
“The problem that is facing South Africa is almost a pandemic in certain types of crimes,” Knibbs says, adding that there are no courses that can prepare one for the requirements of the unit.
Instead, it comes down to years of on-the-job training, with zero room for error.
Verge of collapse
Knibbs and others are warning of a brain drain in the unit that has seen five psychologists, including himself, leave, in as many years. Knibbs had taken a drop in salary from the military where he was working.
Gerard Labuschagne, who resigned as the head of the unit last February, says they were simply unable to retain skills due to the poor salary structure.
"You really have to ask yourself, how are we going to keep these people? We can’t rely on that passion forever, working in a very difficult environment," Labuschagne says.
"You have to look at what are the career opportunities? Can I go upwards in this environment?”
The sheer number and nature of the crimes in South Africa indicate just how crucial this unit is, and how ridiculous it is to leave such an enormous workload in the hands of just one remaining person.
Ultimately, it’s the National Prosecuting Authority who will bear the brunt of the skills vacuum that has formed.
The SAPS appears to be unaware of the most recent resignation. Brigadier Vish Naidoo responded to eNCA saying "I can confirm that since the resignation of one member at the Forensic Psychology Unit more than a year ago, there has been no other resignations." (sic)
* For the full story, watch the video report by Michael Appel in the gallery above.