Newly appointed commander of Cape Town Central police’s detective branch, Colonel Collett McLean, who is also the first woman to take on this position at the station, is aiming to motivate her team and improve their conviction rate.
Colonel McLean, from Kraaifontein started out as acting head of the detectives branch in August last year after Colonel Sagadevan Reddy left.
She has been appointed as branch commander and has since decreased the workload of the detectives by thousands of unfinished dockets, said Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October.
Although Colonel McLean is new to working in the city centre, she has almost 30 years’ experience in the police.
Originally from Mitchell’s Plain, Colonel McLean started her policing career straight after school.
She said she had two choices: becoming a teacher or a police officer, and chose the latter because she wanted to help people.
She worked at Mitchell’s Plain police station for almost 15 years, during which she became a detective.
She then left Mitchell’s Plain police to work at the provincial serious crimes unit, before becoming a detective commander at Maitland police in 2006.
Three years later, Colonel McLean was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel at Kraaifontein police station, and then moved to Table View police until she became acting branch commander at Cape Town Central police station last year. Colonel McLean moved through the ranks fast, climbing from constable to captain in nine years.
She said one of the biggest challenges she faced when she first started at Cape Town was the lack of direction as the detectives had no stable leader for a while.
“The shortage of resources are also problematic, but it’s a wide-spread issue among the police, so we make do with what we have.”
One of the first things that Colonel McLean implemented since her appointment was to get more detectives on duty on a 24-hour basis.
“We have a 24-hour crime office and now, we will have 12 people to pay attention to new cases. Previously there were only four officers. This way, we will improve service delivery and secure convictions.”
She said Cape Town Central is a property crime station.
“There are many theft cases and these are not always solved, because there are not always sources readily available, or people didn’t see who the perpetrator was, so it is challenging to find the suspects unless they are caught, or there is a link to the crime.
“Suspects come from other areas to commit crime here. There are large volumes of crime so it’s not always easy.”
Another challenge is tourism crime, because when tourists go back to their country, it’s hard to get them to remember details or testify, she said.
“Hopefully the new system will get detectives onto cases and at crime scenes almost immediately, which will up the conviction rate.”
She said the new system will possibly also decrease the opportunity for people to commit perjury.
She also increased the number of tracing projects to two, and sometimes three a day. Tracing projects involves looking for wanted suspects at their last known address, or locating stolen items at their addresses.
“Being a detective is not easy – the dockets are like your babies. When you leave to go home, you still have your dockets to finish and close, besides crime prevention work and going to crime scenes.”
With this being said, she tries to keep her team motivated by keeping records of the members’ convictions and acknowledging the work done to secure them. Last week, she said there were a number of convictions for theft out of motor vehicle and robberies.
“We want people to know that we are making arrests and suspects are getting convicted, but the number of years they spend in jail is determined by the courts.”
When she is not at the station, the Kraaifontein resident is a mom of two and still studying to “enrich” herself. She is currently pursuing her law degree.
“My goal is to sit on the bench as a magistrate or a public prosecutor to rid the community of the scourge of crime. So many people’s lives are lost because of crime.
“I initially wanted to be a lawyer, but I decided to be a police officer to make a difference. I wanted to be somebody for someone.”
And being a female detective, she said, one has to try to separate emotion while working.
“I used to cry with victims while taking their statements. It was something I really struggled with, and I had to remember to be a police officer first.
“I’ve seen gruesome things – from someone’s throat being slit to dogs eating a corpse, I’ve locked away rapists and sat with victims, but I had to learn to cut off my emotions when I get into my vehicle to drive to the crime scene. You need to find coping mechanisms.”
Captain October said there was a big difference in the detectives’ performance since Colonel McLean was appointed.
“It works, because she understands the importance of motivation. We look forward to having her around for a long time.”