Demilitarising police ‘not the answer’

2013-04-11 15:09

Demilitarising the SA Police Service (SAPS) will not automatically lead to a decrease in incidents of police brutality, a seminar on police brutality has heard.

This comes as national police chief Riah Phiyega revealed last month that plans were afoot to demilitarise the police and return to the previous civilian ranks, as suggested by the National Planning Commission.

Phiyega, who has faced a grilling because of police action in the August 16 Marikana massacre, which left 34 people dead, did not attend the seminar and instead sent Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mzwandile Petros.

Dr Johan Burger, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies’ governance, crime and justice division, lambasted moves by police management to demilitarise the police as a doubtful way of decreasing police brutality and increasing accountability within the police force.

Burger told the seminar in Pretoria today that changing police ranks would not turn the SAPS into a force that is more sensitive to the human rights of South African citizens.

“The militarisation of the language and the tone of police management must change to end police brutality,” said Burger, referring to the infamous “shoot to kill” statements made by former deputy minister of safety and security Susan Shabangu in 2008.

He said police brutality was not unique to South Africa.

“Police management blame police brutality on the bad apples, which is abused by political leaders, who shift the blame to individual policemen when issues of brutality come up. If police believe that demilitarising the police will have an effect, they are barking up the wrong tree,” Burger said, adding that recruitment, training, command and control of police stations were the main areas that government should focus on to curb the scourge.

Statistics from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), show that the police watchdog investigated 4 923 cases against police officers between April 2011 and March 2012.

Of these, 2 320 were criminal offences involving 488 deaths that occurred in police custody.

Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini said that in some cases of police brutality involving deaths, police “staged shootings and that some of the victims were already dead when they were shot at by police”.

He said the latest statistics showed that 249 people died at the hands of police in the course of arresting the suspects.

“Sometimes police will make up a story that the suspect was shooting at us. Some police will tell us that a suspect died after bumping into a tree while escaping from police. Some of these scenes are cooked,” said Dlamini.

He said the Ipid was not a solution to police brutality and that the police should introduce a policy on police brutality.

“If police don’t believe that police brutality exists, I think they should spend some time at the Ipid,” said Dlamini.

Dlamini also asked why police management did not apply the disciplinary process equally in all cases of brutality.

He questioned why the SAPS acted swiftly in suspending the eight policemen who allegedly killed taxi driver Mido Macia – who was dragged behind a police van after apparently resisting arrest – but did not do the same in other cases investigated by the Ipid.

“We know of many cases where the suspensions don’t happen. Isn’t it time the disciplinary mechanisms of the SAPS are reviewed?” said Dlamini.

Petros conceded that command and control was inefficient within the police force and called for better regulation of police officers, from the time they are recruited to when they reach retirement.

“The police’s code of conduct is a beautiful document. If we can live that document then we wouldn’t be sitting here discussing police brutality. We need to be in a position to deal with those deaths that occur in our custody. We need to be seen to be doing something about the abuse of power,” said Petros.

He said many training methods were put in place after the 1994 democratic elections.

“But we should have had more training on human rights culture in the police,” he said, adding that in the current two-year training model for police, more training on the human rights culture of South Africa needs to be included.

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