Police criminality on the rise

Linda Daniels

Police ciminal graphic.

Police criminality, as documented yearly by the police watchdog body the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), has shown to be on a steady increase. The IPID investigates complaints against the men and women in blue. Its annual reports submitted to Parliament detail the upward trend of this type of complaint of alleged police criminality.

Zweli Mnisi, the Police Ministry’s spokesman has conceded that the issue of police criminality, “is a concern and we condemn this. As I am talking to you there are cops in jail”.

Mnisi says many incidents of police criminality happen, “At the coal front and perhaps command and control at that level has not been as expected. Those management controls must be addressed.

“It would be naïve to say that we are not worried. Perception goes a long way…if the country sees a cop as a criminal then that is concerning. Even if it is one cop out of 300 000, it is a big deal.”

He denied that the police are in crisis.

Annelize van Wyk, the Portfolio Committee Chair of Police, which receives the IPID’s yearly reports, said the increase in complaints of police criminality should be seen within the context of the SAPS massive expansion over the last few years.

“One single criminal complaint against a police officer is one too many. But between those years (1998/99 and 2011/12) the SAPS has grown by 80 000 plus and we need to take that into consideration (the ratio of an expanded SAPS and this type of complaint”.

There are currently 156745 police officers serving in the SAPS.

Johan Burger from the Crime and Justice Programme with the Institute for Security Studies pointed out that the SAPS recruitment drive may have compromised the integrity of the service.

“There has been a rapid expansion of the police in the last decade and last year they acknowledged they forfeited quality to quantity.”

Burger believes the issue of police criminality boils down to “poor command, poor discipline and a lack of internal oversight.”

In June this year Burger released a presentation called ‘The state of the South African Police Service.’

In it he wrote, “Since the lowest number of criminal cases (531) against the police was reported in 2001/2002 – the number rose year-on-year to 2 462 cases in 2009/2010, ie.an increase of 363% (501 criminal cases referred to DPP in 2010/11: convictions – 59; acquittals – 28).

It appears that there is a complex number of factors that has contributed to police criminality.
Van Wyk is more specific about these contributing factors.

“What type of person are we recruiting into the SAPS - that’s the one thing. The second thing is that the national commissioner has already indicated that she is considering bringing back the anti-corruption unit with the SAPS, which could deal with corruption and criminal issues within the police. This committee is on record that we want to see consequences for people who break the law.”

However, IPID spokesperson Moses Dlamini explained that not every complaint of alleged police criminality received by the watchdog body to investigate translates into a prosecution.

“Court cases take a long time to finalise - sometimes years. Most of the cases that are finalised in the courts in a financial year would have been on the court roll for at least a year, so it doesn't follow that if you receive 20 complaints there will be 20 cases finalised in court. Also, some complaints are unsubstantiated - they would not result in prosecution. What is important is the number of investigations completed and the number of recommendations made to the DPP (prosecution) and SAPS (disciplinary action)?”

So, how many accused criminal cops end up charged with crimes and ultimately appear in court?

The NPA’s executive Manager of communications Bulelwa Makeke said, “Cases are enrolled in court in terms of the charges, not in terms of who it is who has committed them. It is therefore not possible for the NPA to respond with a specific breakdown in this regard, unfortunately.”

In July this year, in response to a DA parliamentary question, it was revealed that 150 SAPS members were on suspension awaiting disciplinary hearings. The charges include murder, attempted murder, rape and theft.

The DA shadow Minister of Police Diane Kohler Barnard said that in the 2009-2010 financial year, 771 SAPS members were suspended. Last year, the number increased to 869 SAPS members. During this period, there were also 2154 SAPS members facing criminal charges.

Kohler Barnard recently accused the Minister of police of being “vague on crucial police matters”.

 “In our opinion, the number of SAPS members who have been charged with rape, murder, assault and theft over a certain period of time should be readily available. It is the responsibility of IPID to monitor this situation. Is this information not computerised? Or is the Minister too embarrassed to divulged details on this?