Sharper teeth for police watchdog

2010-07-25 14:10

Zipho Richard Ndlovu, a former security guard, is ­suing the police

for torture.

Ndlovu, from Soweto, claims that two months ago he was picked up at

his workplace by two ­police officers who accused him of ­taking part in a

­robbery. He was cuffed, ­bundled into a ­police van and driven to ­Midrand

police ­station.

After telling the officers that he didn’t know anything about the

­robbery, Ndlovu claims they trussed him up on on the floor with a plank under

his knees, put a black bag over his head and ­attached electrodes to his ­ear

lobes.

In the sworn statement he provided to his lawyers, he said he was

then ­tortured.

If successful, his claim will add to the R7.5 billion (and

counting) in legal costs being faced by the country’s ­law-enforcers.

Ndlovu’s case is one of ­hundreds of civil claims being launched

against the police that land on the desk of ­Professor Peter Jordi, head of the

Wits Law Clinic.

Jordi, an expert on cases ­involving torture by police, has seen an

increase in cases coming to the clinic in the last two years. Some involve

­torture but most are related to wrongful arrests and ­detention.

He doesn’t advise his ­clients to take their cases to the

Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), the body tasked with civilian

oversight of the police.

He said: “Ultimately, police investigating police is going to go

nowhere.”

But now the organisation tasked with monitoring police excesses is

set for a makeover with the draft Independent Police Investigative Directorate

(Idip) Bill.

The ICD will be given a new name, new powers of ­investigation and

a new brief on what complaints it may pursue. And, critically, it will be

rendered independent from the SA Police Service (SAPS).

This comes at a time when complaints against police ­officers are

on the rise.

In the last ­financial year, there were a ­total of 6?119

complaints, ­representing a 5% increase from the previous year.

The parliamentary call for public comment on the bill closed this

week.

The Idip Bill is intended to bolster the workings of the ICD which

have been ­described variously as “inept” and “toothless”.

Currently, the embattled watchdog falls within the SA Police

Service Act. And though its brief is to recommend disciplinary action against

errant police ­members, it has no powers of enforcement since the SAPS is not

obliged to act on them.

ICD chief executive ­Francois Beukman said this week: “The stats of

performance in this area are poor.”

The organisation’s latest ­figures will ­only be presented to

Parliament in September but between the last two ­financial years, less than 5%

of the recommendations made by the ICD to the SAPS resulted in disciplinary

­action.

The majority were misconduct cases, followed by ­criminal cases,

deaths and ­domestic violence non-compliance. In nearly all ­provinces, deaths

in custody or as a result of police action were increasing.

Beukman said the ICD had repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to

get the SAPS to report back on the status of cases.

He said: “The onus was on the SAPS to discipline its members, which

it just did not do.”

In terms of the new law, the independent directorate has to provide

regular reports to the police secretariat on both the finalisation of

investigations and the ­recommen­dations made.

The bill in its present form was the outcome of consultations­

­between the SAPS, the ICD, various labour unions, community policing forums and

the National Treasury.

The ICD’s management has long complained of being ­understaffed and

unable to manage an increasing ­workload.

Beukman said, though, the new law will also alleviate this problem

and a ­proper work study will need to be done to look at the financial workings

of the new ­directorate.

Currently, 292 ICD staffers are tasked with managing complaints

against an ­organisation (the SAPS) with close to 180 000 members.

The type of investigations being done by the new body will also

change.

The directorate will investigate deaths in police custody, rape by

a ­police officer, rape of a detainee by other detainees while in ­police

custody, complaints of torture, “systematic corruption involving the police” and

any other ­matters it is referred by the minister or an MEC through the

­executive ­director.

Beukman said: “It’s very ­important that we look at ­human

rights-related issues involving the police.

The ­public needs assurance

now.”



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