National police commissioner Bheki Cele on Friday conceded that eight years after its inception, sector policing was still stuck in the starting blocks because of a lack of staff and vehicles.
"It has not reached the level of its potential. We have indentified the shortcomings of it. One of is a lack of equipment, mostly to do with the cars," he told Parliament's portfolio committee on police at hearings on the police's annual report.
"Do we expect the visible police to have cars when ...you go to a police station and only two are on the road and 20 are in the garage?
Commissioner Andre Pruis, the police's head of operational services, said the police service simply lacked the staff to properly implement the strategy, designed to foster close co-operation between police and communities to prevent crime.
"When we started with the demarcation of the sectors, the first idea was that you can work in very small sectors ... but let's do simple calculations. If you take one sector, you should at least have 16 members per sector, if you want to have only four per shifts and then you should have possibly have four vehicles," Pruis said.
"If you want to have 16 in each sector, you will have to have a police service possibly like some very big countries. I can mention one in the east with a police force of one-million members.
"We then realised that it's just not possible within the ambit of budgets etc to have the sectors as small as possible, and then sectors became bigger and eventually you have a situation where sectors were clustered together because there is just not that number of members available."
The police top brass were grilled by MPs on how they planned to speed up implementation of sector policing during a second day of hearings on the department's annual report.
So far the policy has been put into practice at 169 police stations out of the 1,117 nationwide.
Pruis said the police currently had only 100,000 "visible" members.
"Divide them into four and you have 25,000 members per shift working," he added.
Cele said having taken stock of the problems hampering implementation, he believed that "there are ways of fixing it".
The police did not so much lack sufficient vehicles, but were failing to administer their fleet properly. Police vehicles were still illicitly taken home by members, and those in need of repairs languished for weeks at garages.
He suggested outsourcing maintenance to garages that were under obligation to return any police vehicle within 24 hours.
Cele also argued that sector policing should not be seen as an end in itself, but part of an overall strategy of preventing crime.
"It will fit in the overall picture of reducing crime," he said.
The police were relying on other recently introduced methods, notably its new tactical response teams trained to handle dangerous situations, to take the pressure off ordinary station staff.
"We send people who are competent to use them to face the attack rather than take who is taking down statements in the station and throw them at somebody armed with an AK," Cele said.
The response visibly irritated committee chairwoman Sindi Chikunga, who said the police leadership were failing to provide clear answers on how they planned to tackle the problems surrounding sector policing.
"What is your intention going forward? We must be informed what the strategy will be," she asked.
"I don't think we can just conclude that okay, it doesn't work. We can't meet police at this level and be told yes there are problems. We can't be talking about sector policing year in and year out. We need something that is worked out as a way of overcoming these problems."