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To Harass and Control: When the Problem Comes From Inside the Police

March 23, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 126

The researchers listed one hundred separate incidents alleging or confirming the police's involvement in serious crimes such as ATM bombings, armed robberies, house robberies, rapes, murders, and serious assaults. The Institute consulted journalists and the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD).

'Not a huge number - said co-author Thuthukani Ndebele - but it gives an indication of the nature of the crimes as well as an indication that there is a likelihood of finding more if we had more resources.'

Approximately forty of the listed incidents related to murders. In thirty of these cases a police issued service weapon was used. The other murders arose from alleged assaults by police officers or torture of suspects in police custody. In more than 10 of the cases the victim was the spouse or partner of a police officer.

The research also reports the effectiveness of the consequent charge laid on the alleged offender. And the results are appalling.

In 2008/09, 828 serious assaults were reported to the ICD as having been committed by police officers. However, in the same period, only six policemen were successfully prosecuted for such assaults, a figure of 0.72%.

As stated by the research paper, 'the police may argue that reports made, and charges laid, in 2008/09 would not necessarily have been concluded by the end of that year. However, they would have to acknowledge that convictions recorded in any particular year would also relate to charges laid in previous years'.

The very low conviction figure may suggest a shortcoming of the prosecutorial process when applied to the SAPS members. Not for ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini anyway, who explained it as follows: 'Of those cases that are substantiated, there are cases in which the prosecutors decline to prosecute for various reasons, the balance of the cases go on trial. Then there may be acquittals and convictions. None of the aforesaid factors are taken into consideration by the researchers.'

'There were no acquittals for common assault recorded in the 2008/09 ICD Annual Report - stated Ndebele - it may have been that other cases were withdrawn or were still ongoing at the time the report was released.'

It may be argued at this point, in which extension the ICD really is independent and free from any interference. Also if it is not subdued to the SAPS, it is still headed by the Police Minister and his deputy. But also on this subject ICD's position is firm.

'First, the ICD is independent by virtue of it conducting investigations independently from the SAPS - went on Mr Dlamini - in terms of the current legislation, it has powers to search, enter premises and seize documents. Second, he gets its mandate to investigate from legislation and does not get instructions to investigate or not to investigate from the Minister of Police. Thirdly, the ICD gets its own budget from the Treasury and is able to employ its own investigators who are not members of the SAPS.'

Brutality and police violence

Although the central threat that runs through the police work consists in copying with problems in which force has to be used, whenever members of the police service use force unlawfully there is a case of police brutality.

As clearly stated by David Bruce in his recent works, police brutality 'is generally deliberate unlawful violence, but actions which amount to criminally negligent uses of force should also be considered as acts of police brutality'. The term does not fit if the violent act is perpetrated outside of the police occupational role, but both situations may be seen as part of the same problem as 'that factor which contribute to the one may contribute to the other, members who are prone to the one may be prone to the other' and both problems have to be dealt by police managers as an overall phenomena of 'police violence'.

David Bruce is a Senior Researcher in the Criminal Justice Program at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. About the high rate of violent crimes committed by police officers and the low number of persecutions, he said that 'unless people are held accountable there is little to deter them from breaking the law. So the absence of effective deterrence feeds into the high levels of police criminality. But there are also other problems which feed into this such as the absence of clear standards being set by leaders.' And leadership is an issue of great relevance when it comes to the police violence. 'Having leaders appointed to head the police who have limited experience of policing and do not really understand how it should be carried out can reinforce this problem.'

On leadership and management spent a few words also the SAIRR's research, stating that the lack of order and discipline among the police forces is a consequence of a break-down of the chain of command and suggesting to 'hold senior officers responsible for criminal behaviour within the police stations/units under their control'.

What to do?

Other hoped interventions to solve the problem are related to the empowerment of the ICD and the establishment of a new investigative agency 'tasked with working proactively as a "hunter force" to infiltrate police stations and actively root out criminal officers'.

'I support the need for a proper anti-corruption unit to be established within the SAPS - David Bruce said on the matter - a more effective ICD could also contribute to addressing the problem. But the basic issue again is about having leadership that is committed to ensuring that we have a police service which conforms to high standards and which sends out a consistent message and sets a strong example in this regard.'

'The SAIRR research paper does not bring anything new to the debate - was the harsh response of Mr Dlamini - In fact, it rehashes what has already been done through the introduction of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) Bill. This bill is likely to become law before the end of the year.'

As stated in the South African Government Information website, the IPID Bill aims to empower the Directorate through the improvement of its management and its reporting and accountability practice. The rationale behind the name change is to brand the proposed directorate as an independent body whose focus will be 'to conduct investigations of offences by police members, rather than merely receiving complaints'.

The Bill is currently with the parliamentary portfolio committee on safety and security, having been referred back to that committee by the National Council of Provinces on 23 November 2010.

SAIRR's research did not miss to acknowledge the announced changes, but although welcoming them as an encouraging step towards an effective solution of the problem it reminded that 'it remains to be seen whether a proactive and authoritative directorate would be able to ensure that its proposals are followed through and result in an increased number of appropriate punishments and/or convictions'.

'To serve and protect'

After the release of the research paper, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa rejected it as subjective. 'There has been a concerted drive from this police leadership to fight the crime - told the Minister to the main newspapers - which includes rooting out those tsotsi cops who may be among... Whether the SAIRR chooses to deliberately or subjectively ignore this fact, our mission will continue unhindered.'

An understandable statement, if seen as a legitimate defence of the work of thousands of good willed policemen and women. Not, if it deliberately tries to obscure the truth, and the truth is well expressed by the SAIRR's researchers in numbers and figures. Acknowledging it is the necessary first step towards the solution of the problem. And it has not to be taken as an accusation against the Police Service.

As stated in Broken Blue Line, 'it will not be possible to properly address the problem of violence within the police's ranks without paying close attention to, and having great sympathy for, the circumstances they are forced to confront every day'.

Source: EzineArticles
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