Pikoli on policing the police

2017-02-28 06:01
Provincial police ombudsman Vusi Pikoli

Provincial police ombudsman Vusi Pikoli (Monique Duval, People's Post)

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Cape Town - As complaints against police officers across the Western Cape continue to mount, one man believes building bridges between the police and communities is the first step towards addressing the problems.

After spending just over 700 days as the first ever Western Cape police ombudsman, Advocate Vusi Pikoli provides an interesting insight into the root causes of a breakdown in relations between police and the communities they serve.

Pikoli was appointed in December 2014 and one month later the office of the provincial police ombudsman was opened and started taking complaints. Tasked primarily with investigating complaints of police inefficiency and the breakdown of relations between a police station and the surrounding suburb’s residents, Pikoli says starting the one-of-its-kind government department has been both challenging and exciting.

Right to question

With no precedent, Pikoli says he sought guidance on how to best execute this oversight role mainly from the Constitution and the provisions in the Western Cape Community Safety Act.

He says while relations with police in many areas are strained, this cannot be tackled without taking into account the historic role of police during apartheid. He says as society’s perceptions about the police change, many issues, such as service delivery, have arisen.

Pikoli believes all South Africans have the right to question service delivery and get a mechanism for raising their concerns.

Pikoli says at first his office’s relationship with the police had left much to be desired but as time went on, it improved. Today, he says he is happy with the cooperation received from police when complaints arise.

Questioned on what role the shortage of police resources play in the complaints lodged with his office, Pikoli says it is a prominent theme in complaints. However, he believes how the resources are being managed is the more important aspect to focus on.

“Inadequate resources cannot be used as an excuse for non-delivery. How these resources are managed is important.”

60% of complaints done

Since inception, the police ombudsman has received 825 complaints. He says 481 complaints have been finalised while 344 are still under investigation.

Pikoli explains there is a wide variety of complaints but the most common complaints relate to poor communication between police and complainants. This is followed closely by complaints of unacceptable behaviour by police towards complainants.

According to the statistics, Delft Police Station topped the list with a total of 36 complaints lodged against it with the police ombudsman.

Pikoli says once a complaint is received, it is reviewed to first establish if the complaint falls within his office’s mandate.

“If the complaint is within our mandate, then it is assigned to an investigation officer who conducts an impartial and preliminary investigation.

It must be noted that the office is neither for police nor for the client, and we focus on the facts of the case. Throughout the preliminary investigation the office will aim to resolve the matter through mediation.

“Our findings are then issued to the provincial commissioner. However, our findings are not binding. Once the matter is concluded, the officer will then close the matter.”

Pikoli explains some of the common mistakes people make when lodging a complaint is confusing the role of the police ombudsman with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. The police ombudsman does not investigate cases relating to police officers who may be committing crimes.

Instead, this office deals with service delivery complaints against police, which includes officers not providing feedback, police failing to open or register a case or not going to a crime scene after being called.

Pikoli highlights the case of Bennie Adams of Kuils River to illustrate the consequences of police inefficiency.

Adams was sentenced in the Cape High Court last year after he broke into the house of his ex-girlfriend and forced her and her child to go home with him, where he raped her, beat both of them and eventually killed her child. According to a statement by the national prosecuting authority, the woman escaped Adams’ house before her son was murdered. She sought help from Kuils River police, but, despite having a protection order, they refused to help her.

Mediation brings change

Pikoli believes police inefficiency should never go unchecked as it could, like in this case, result in someone’s death.

He says while the police ombudsman has the authority to make recommendations, police officers are not legally bound to these decisions. Asked whether this could be considered a legal loophole for police, he says the answer is simple: “In many cases we find that when there is a breakdown in relations, all that is needed is mediation.”

Pikoli believes a lack of leadership is often the cause of strife between police and community members. But, he says, with mediation and guidance he has witnessed a significant change.

Pikoli and his team are embarking on mass outreach projects to educate residents on the role of the police ombudsman.

- @monique_duval

- For more information visit www.westerncape.gov.za/police-ombudsman 


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