Cops cash in on the side

2013-05-12 14:00

Underpaid officers who moonlight could cost millions in legal bills.

Yawning police officers who sleep on duty have a dangerous secret: many of them do extra security work illegally after hours for anyone with enough money to pay them – even if it sometimes means going without sleep for two days.

What’s the secret that keeps them going? Red Bull.

The danger? The police minister, and therefore you, the taxpayer, has to pay millions if these freelancing police officers, who sometimes use their service weapons after hours, kill or injure anyone.

Another risk: the officer who is assisting you after a robbery at your house may not have slept for days.

Moonlighting is strictly prohibited in the police if the work conflicts with a member’s role as a law enforcement officer.

This includes security work and also the taxi industry, which the police are already struggling to control.

Nevertheless, many officers work as bouncers and taxi drivers, a City Press investigation with sister newspaper Rapport has found.

Police officers across the country told City Press they earn so little they either have to work after hours or demand bribes from the public.

Some complain that they have to live with their parents or in back yard shacks. A constable in Durban said that after six years of service, he takes home only R3?000.

Shockingly, police salaries are often higher than those of nurses and teachers.

These disclosures came after nine metro police officers were suspended because they reported with their service weapons, to guard guests at the Gupta family’s controversial wedding at Sun City, for extra income.

At least six other bodyguards at the wedding were also apparently members of the SA Police Service (SAPS), a guard at the wedding told City Press.

This could not be independently confirmed.

A warrant officer in Vanderbijlpark said many colleagues at other stations do extra work without authorisation, especially on days off.

“If you sit around for four days doing nothing and need money to put food on the table, it’s logical you will go and work somewhere for money.

“Everybody knows if you can get extra work you take it.”

He said the SAPS mostly turns down their applications to do additional work, so nobody declares it.

Another Gauteng police officer told City Press: “If you have applied, they are aware of you and then watch you closely.

“From Meyerton to Vereeniging, some of my colleagues work as bodyguards or security guards. It’s all just about extra money.”

A warrant officer in Joburg said many of his colleagues do extra security work.

“A few years ago, five members of the Jeppe Police Station who were moonlighting were shot and killed during a robbery. They carry the weapons with them in case they have to use them in such situations.”

A sergeant in southern Gauteng has been working illegally after hours for years.

“I have a second business and do extra work when I can. The police are not aware of it, but I need the money,” he said.

A former police officer who recently resigned from the SAPS after 12 years of service says the R8?000 he took home every month after deductions was not enough to care for his family.

That’s why he did extra work as a bouncer at a nightclub on weekends and sometimes during the week.

“I often went two days without sleep. To keep going you just drink a lot of Red Bulls and think of your family at home,” he said.

Those doing this illegal work say they don’t have much choice.

“I work for my money in a legal way and do that rather than go around asking for bribes,” a young warrant officer in Pretoria said.

“It’s better than being corrupt,” a constable in Durban confirmed this week.

Dianne Kohler-Barnard, the DA shadow minister of police, said the parliamentary portfolio committee on police was aware there are “hundreds of service hours” the police can’t account for and it is “absolutely credible” that members of the police do illegal extra work.

But she added the committee is not aware of any such cases.

General Riah Phiyega, the national police commissioner, has never encountered any cases of moonlighting and is not at all aware of any such problem, she said on Friday in response to an enquiry.

Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says the problem of police officers whose extra work interferes with their police duties is something that should actually be investigated by crime intelligence.

“Do a lifestyle audit, especially in cases where it (extra work) is very rewarding,” said Newman.

“If you use state resources for personal benefit, it’s called corruption. Blue lights at the Gupta wedding not only break the law, it also means they are not available for visible policing. And if you have to shoot someone, you are not protected by the laws that cover other (officers).”

Newman said the police minister could also be held responsible for police officers’ actions even when they are not on duty, following a watershed case in the Constitutional Court in 2011. – Reporting team: Jacques Steenkamp, Pieter-Louis Myburgh, Karin Burger, Carien Kruger, Joshua Carstens and Sphumelele Mngoma

» This week, a video emerged that shows some of the ways in which cops make extra cash. A policeman filmed taking a bribe and a policewoman caught on camera performing a sexual act for money would be suspended, police have said. Warning: explicit footage

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