Scorpions Show Off Their Stinging Power
The Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), or the Scorpions as they are commonly known, showed a strong success rate with 90 percent of cases prosecuted resulting in convictions, according to their annual report for 2002/2003.
The directorate made 318 arrests and 104 successful convictions in the same period.
The Scorpions' performance is detailed in a new book by Jean Redpath for the Institute of Security Studies. Redpath is a research consultant specialising in criminal justice issues.
According to Redpath during the period 2002/2003, on average 90 percent of cases prosecuted resulted in convictions and in one region, the rate was even higher at 97 percent.
"This suggests that the DSO is astute in choosing to prosecute only those cases likely to be successful in court," she writes.
According to Redpath, the data also suggests that the Scorpions are unlikely to make a "frivolous" arrest.
"The ratio of envisaged and finalised prosecutions to arrests is 92 percent, suggesting that almost all arrests lead to prosecutions. The DSO also appears to have been somewhat restrained in carrying out searches.
"Only 166 searches were conducted, which works out to about one per finalised investigation.
"Again this suggests that searches are conducted only where necessary, thereby not squandering resources," writes Redpath.
During the mentioned period the DSO had 169 pending investigations, 167 finalised investigations, 117 finalised prosecutions and 177 pending investigations.
The average time from declaration to final date of last prosecution was 23 months and three weeks with the average number of court days per prosecution about 12 days.
The unit has a budgeted expenditure of R267-million and has 531 employees nationally.
The Scorpions are the investigative arm of South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority headed by Bulelani Ngcuka.
The launch of the directorate was announced in September 1999 and officially came into existence 16 months later in January 2001.
Redpath adds, however, that it is very difficult to judge whether the overall number of cases finalised, and the length of time taken to complete an investigation reflects well or poorly on the Scorpions.
"On the face of it, the numbers seem small and the period over which investigations are carried out seems long.
"However, the DSO is not in the business of chasing numbers of convictions.
"One difficult case resulting in an important conviction can be far more important than a large number of convictions that would have less of an impact."
Redpath added that until the details of a finalised conviction are made public, we cannot know whether it was a difficult or a easy prosecution or a prosecution with impact or not.
With acknowledgements to Babalo Ndenze and the Cape Times.