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SAPS: A brutal police force with a reputation for corruption?

21st August 2013


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A major crime conference has reflected on the bleak picture of the South African Police Service (SAPS), facing rising complaints of brutality, with a reputation for corruption, and where mass recruitment has weakened systems and put poorly trained police on the streets.

Brutality cases recorded against police officers increased by 313% in the ten years from 2001/02 to 2011/12, the Institute for Security Studies' (ISS) annual crime conference was told on Wednesday.


ISS Crime and Justice Programme director Gareth Newham said a total of 11 880 criminal cases were opened with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) during the five years to 2011/12, but this resulted in just 2 576 prosecutions and 129 convictions. This means that only 1% of criminal cases opened against police officials ends in a conviction. Of the 720 deaths reported to the IPID in 2011/12, 22% of cases were referred to the National Prosecuting Authority because of some evidence of criminality, Newham said.

The number of disciplinary hearings in the police which ended in a dismissal decreased from 12,2% to 9,6% between 2009/10 and 2011/12.


In 2011/12 more than a third (36%) of disciplinary hearings ended with no sanction against the officer, and a total of 2 049 cases were withdrawn or ended in a not guilty verdict.

"It appears police misconduct is met with impunity," he said. "The single most likely outcome of a case against the police is no outcome." This undermines the morale and public trust in of the many honest police officers who do their work professionally and within the rules.

However, there were consequences for the tax-payer as it was facing civil claims valued at more than R840-million in relation to assault, and R1.1-billion related to shooting incidents. Total claims against the police have doubled in the past two years to R14.8-billion.

In the police force today, Newham reported, 1 448 serving police officials have convictions for serious crimes ranging from murder to rape and assault. "Why are convicted criminals allowed to continue to serve in the organisation responsible for law and order?" he asked during a keynote conference presentation titled 'Warning Lights Flashing: Exploring Police Abuses & Performance in South Africa'.

The SAPS budget increased 222% to R66.7-billion over the ten years from 2003/04 to 2013/14, Newham said. And police personnel increased by more than 50%, or 67 035 posts, during 2002/03 to 2011/12.

But this mass recruitment into the police, while understandable in the face of high crime, was poorly thought through by police senior management and resulted in large numbers of police on the streets who were poorly trained, managed and supported.

Mass police recruitment put pressure on recruitment, selection, training, supervision, discipline and performance management; and resulted in an increase of police misconduct, brutality and corruption, Newham said. "Throwing more money and people at the police is not the solution. We don't need more people in police uniforms – we need professional police officers who are better trained, motivated and managed."

The ineffective tactic of mass arrests

Despite a huge 26% increase in the number of arrests since 2008/09 the overall crime rate stabilised with a slight 1.4% increase. The 1.6-million arrests made in 2011/2012 was an increase of 11% compared to the previous year, but total crime still increased by 0.7% during the year.

This showed that the police tactic of mass arrests was not just ineffective but may actually increase crime, Newham told the crime conference. International research has found that a mass arrests for petty crime don't act as a deterrent, particularly if those arrested are the unemployed or marginalized. Instead, these arrests may cause a breakdown in community relations with police, resulting in further disorder and law breaking.

Mass arrests were a failed police tactic which are not part of a comprehensive approach towards crime control, Newham said, citing evidence showing an 18.4% increase in arrests during the past three years, but a decrease of 10% in cases finalised by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Concern over the SAPS Performance Plan for 2013/14

Further, Newham highlighted several problems with the SAPS Performance Plan for 2013/14, noting that it fails to engage with evidence of police abuse or poor public perceptions of police. It makes no mention of clear plans for strengthening criminal investigations and disciplinary processes against police misconduct and has no clear plan for improving police training, appointments, promotions, rewards or incentives.

The police performance plan, Newham said, does not recognise that crime has stabilised at a high rate and that current policing methods are not yielding the desired results.

"There is hope in the National Development Plan, which presents clear practical recommendations for improving the professionalism of the police. It calls for appointments to senior management positions being based primarily on expertise and merit unlike what has been happening for years now.

"The time has arrived for senior police leadership to be appointed following a transparent and competitive process. The practice of parachuting unknown and untested people into the senior ranks of the SAPS has contributed significantly to most of the police shortcomings experienced today," he concluded.



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