Cops face 'extra-special' thugs - Cele
Johannesburg - South African police do not deal with "run-of-the-mill thugs", but professional, heavily armed operatives, national police commissioner General Bheki Cele said on Friday.
"What you are dealing with here are professional operatives who plan their operations with military precision and arm themselves with the most advanced weapons," Cele told a meeting on police killings in Boksburg.
Those carrying out cash heists were no ordinary criminals who "simply wake up one day and decide they are going out on a score".
Cele said police were not recruited to be slaughtered by paramilitary criminals.
"We don't want to do that. We do not recruit men and women to join the SAPS so they can be slaughtered.
"Extra-special thugs deserve the attention of extra-special police men and women.
"These extra-special thugs have earned our respect through years of shedding our blood like we are just another criminal gang battling it out for control of a particular street. We are not a gang," he said.
Cele was justifying the creation of special policing units. He said these types of criminals required more than police trained only to maintain peace among ordinary civilians.
The meeting on police killings heard that 48 police officers were killed since the start of 2011.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the police had a "protracted war" ahead of it, and the changing nature of crime has necessitated a smarter approach to policing.
"The prevalence of firearms and the readiness to use them, together with availability of military expertise amongst criminals, have changed the nature of crime in the country," Mthethwa said.
Threats faced by the country and the police often involved organised violent crime and gangs with various levels of military training.
"Their mode of operation is military, from planning, gathering of information to execution. This type of threat requires a suitable response.
"The police must everywhere maintain a capability to meet this threat," he said.
Mthethwa stressed, however, that the recent changing of police ranks did not constitute the "militarisation" of the police.
Cele said the SAPS were "mindful" of the strain placed on special police units in their day-to-day duties.
He asked the meeting of police bosses, researchers and civil society to advise the police on what to do to become a "solid and uncompromising last line of defence" in the battle against criminals.
"Since the beginning of this year, hardly a weekend goes by without us in the SAPS family not having to mourn yet another breach of our weak defences," he said.
Despite this police men and women continued the fight.
"... the SAPS do this everyday even though they know too well that by choosing to be everyday heroes and heroines, they run the risk of having their names added to the long list of their colleagues who lose their lives in the line of duty on a daily basis.
"This is the life of a policeman."
Mthethwa said the slaying of police was a "direct threat" to democracy in South Africa. Last year 93 policemen were killed and 101 in 2009..
From 2003 to 2011, the province which saw the most police killings was Gauteng with 201, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 178, the Eastern Cape with 83, 68 in the Western Cape, 45 in Mpumalanga and 45 in the North West.
"We are saying enough now. One police life lost is one too many," Mthethwa said.
Police murders affected morale, traumatised colleagues and families and led to insecurity within the police, he said.
A 2003 report on police killings found that 20% of the incidents happened when police were responding to a crime, four percent were killed by colleagues, 2% in family disputes, 5% died in arguments with the public and 8% were killed when they were being robbed for their guns.
In May, two policemen - aged 39 and 23 - were killed on duty in Kraaifontein, Cape Town.
In the same month, two police officers were shot and killed in KwaZulu-Natal and another shot and injured.
On July 6 a police reservist was shot and killed in Soweto.
Mthethwa's office earlier this month denied losing a dossier on officers killed.