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An Improved Independent Police Investigations Directorate (IPID) to Address Systemic Police Corruption


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Recently, South Africa's National Assembly adopted a revised draft of the Independent Police Investigations Directorate (IPID) Bill. This draft of the bill represents a significant improvement on the first, thanks in part to the shared concern of the portfolio committee and various civil society organisations who made submissions concerning improving the professionalism of the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The new legislative framework seeks to significantly improve civilian oversight of the police. Consequently it provides the IPID with a mandate vastly broader than that of the current Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD). Once the legislation is passed as expected in November, the IPID will be required to investigate


• all deaths as a result of police action or that occur in police custody;
• any complaint of the discharge of an official firearm by police officials;
• any allegation of rape committed by a police official or that occurs in police custody; and
• any allegation of torture or assault by a police official;
• any matter referred to it as a result of a decision by the Executive Director, the Minister of Police, an MEC or the Secretary of Police.

In relation to police corruption, the IPID will not only be required to investigate any allegation it receives, but in addition may investigate "systemic corruption" involving police. This marks the first time that the independent body to investigate police abuses as established by the Constitution will be expected to look beyond specific allegations and investigate the broader nature of the challenge of corruption.


On the 16th and 17th of September, the ICD and the Crime and Justice Programme (CJP) of the Institute for Security Studies jointly hosted a national workshop in Durban with the objective of exploring how the IPID should interpret and engage with the challenge of "systemic corruption" involving police. The workshop was attended by delegates representing the ICD, the South African Police Service (SAPS) including members of the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (also known as the Hawks), the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), metropolitan police departments, the South African Police Union (SAPU), academics and civil society.

It was clearly acknowledged that although the IPID would have an important role to play with regards to tackling police corruption, its ability to effectively address the challenge as a whole would be limited. This is because it has long been internationally recognised that corruption is an occupational and organisational hazard of policing agencies the world over. In 1991, one of the world's leading experts on the subject, Robert Klitgaard, developed a definition of the problem through the formula Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion - Accountability. With regards to the police, officers have a state sanctioned monopoly on the legitimate use of force and arrest; are able to apply these powers at their own discretion and almost always work without direct supervision. Therefore, without effective accountability mechanisms, corruption easily flourishes in police agencies.

As such, police corruption should not be considered a matter of "a few bad apples" but rather as a product of weak accountability, recruitment and management systems. When a police agency's rules and regulations are frequently ignored, this fosters an organisational culture in which informal and illicit practices become normalised. Research conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand involving months of participant observation of police officers in Johannesburg, found corruption to be part and parcel of every day life for those officers. This is because police-community relations are frequently built around informal systems that encourage regular and illicit, though often seemingly mundane, transactions. One such example in the Wits research was of an informal beer seller buying a bunch of bananas for two police officers. The police did not request the bananas, but the implication of the exchange was that the person selling beer without a license knew that he would not be arrested by the police officers if he gave them something. In this way most police corruption becomes "systemic" in that it is a product of the patterns of behaviour that regularly occur although they are in contravention of the formal rules and regulations.

SAPS senior management has spoken out against poor discipline as an organisational challenge that needs to be addressed. Indeed, improving discipline was one of the reasons given for the decision that was taken earlier this year to revert to a military styled rank system in the SAPS. Nevertheless, although poor police discipline is a flashing red-light warning that corruption and other criminal activity is likely to be thriving, senior police officials continue to talk as if incidents of police corruption occur as a result of "a few individuals" and that it can be tackled through case-by-case investigations and prosecutions.

Although insufficient for addressing systemic corruption, it is certainly necessary that corrupt individuals can be removed through a fair process. In this regard, one positive development that was announced at the workshop is the recent establishment of a dedicated integrity unit within the Hawks. This unit, together with an anti-corruption unit, will monitor lifestyle trends and investigate any corruption cases against Hawk members and SAPS officers above the rank of colonel. Corruption involving station level members below the rank of colonel is investigated by station bound detectives at neighbouring stations - a fragile strategy and one that needs review. While there is promise in some of these initiatives, reactive investigation will do little to correct the culture and environment that support and allow for corruption to occur.

Julie Berg from the University of Cape Town illustrated this most succinctly by outlining two models through which responses to corruption might be conceptualised. The first she called the "deterrence model" which, as currently relied on by the SAPS, focuses on the behaviour of an individual officer and the specific laws or regulations that are transgressed. This "identify and punish" approach will not be an effective deterrence when so few offending members are caught out. For the 2009/10 financial year, the SAPS charged a mere 362 members with corruption, representing 0.002% of the organisation's workforce. Despite the charges, only 193 of the 362 officials were suspended pending investigation.

An alternative to the deterrence model, referred to as the "opportunity focused model" seeks to understand the opportunities that exist within the police organisation or policing environment that allow for offences to occur. This model does not focus on the individual but on the conditions in which he or she works. It seeks to amend conditions rather than punish individuals, and by so doing, to alter the systems that allow corruption to occur. The delegates agreed that if the IPID is to adopt the opportunity-focused model, it needs to develop solid research capacity so that it is able to identify those factors that support corrupt behaviour. It will therefore be important to partner with established universities and research institutions so as to develop the required capacity. Similarly, the IPID will need to forge networks with state bodies such as the Hawks and Special Investigating Unit in order to both proactively and reactively engage with systemic police corruption.

While the new Bill significantly enhances the new Directorate's mandate, it may also substantially increase the public expectations placed on it. The Directorate will need to carefully foster and manage its newly branded image so as to avoid being imbued with the label of a "toothless watchdog" too often associated with the ICD.

While there was general agreement at the workshop with regards to the two-model approach and the IPID's need to network with other agencies, certain questions remain. If the IPID adopts the interagency approach, at what point will it be foisting its mandate to investigate police corruption off onto others? Without significantly enhancing the human and physical resources assigned to the Directorate, it will not be able to achieve even this one discretionary element of its mandate - to investigate "systemic corruption".

The passing of the IPID Bill will herald a promising moment for police accountability in South Africa. It will see the transformation of the ICD into an oversight body to which the SAPS and metropolitan police will be compelled to respond when investigations are complete and recommendations made. If sufficiently resourced and supported by other agencies where additional capacity is required, the IPID may very well play a key role in the much needed professionalisation of the country's police agencies. Ultimately though, the effective reduction of police corruption requires the top management of these police agencies to champion and implement policies and systems to ensure that their staff remain motivated and held accountable to the tasks for which they were hired.

Written by: Andrew Faull, Researcher, Crime and Justice Programme, ISS Pretoria





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