Vexed issue

2008-09-19 00:00

THE accepted norm in the operations of a civilised police force is the use of minimum force in the apprehension of suspected criminals. Where police are themselves being killed by criminals, as is the case too often in this country, other considerations come to the fore. Following the death recently of a top KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) policeman, Zethembe Chonco, the MEC for Safety and Community Liaison, Bheki Cele, counselled police “not to die with their guns in their pockets”, but rather “to put criminals behind bars or in a mortuary”.

Cele’s advice was implemented earlier this week on the N3 near Howick when two of Chonco’s suspected killers were shot dead by police. Many will consider this action admirable. Yet it also calls for careful thought. What if a similar action occurs against someone who is emotionally or mentally unstable? What if the use of excessive force begins to become a new norm? While “shoot to kill” is an understandable instruction in a crime-ridden society, it must not precipitate a slide into police banditry or anarchy.

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