SAPS: probe post-traumatic stress disorder
Erna van Wyk
Johannesburg - A new study has found that police involvement in serious and violent crime is not limited to “isolated incidents” but a general pattern of behaviour that is common across the country.
Researchers say the 100 cases they examined are just “the tip of the iceberg” and they highlight alleged police involvement in serious crimes such as ATM bombings and house robberies, among others.
The research was conducted last year by the unit for risk analysis at the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) and is due for release on Monday.
The researchers studied media reports and gathered information from the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD). Within one week 100 cases of alleged police involvement in serious and violent crime were found.
The cases did not include petty crimes, poor service delivery or officials soliciting small bribes.
Three quarters of the cases studied took place between January 2009 and April last year.
They were not an indication of the total number of allegations against police officers or convictions of police officers for involvement in serious and violent crimes over the period.
Public needs to know
“We have bumped into the tip of an iceberg of violent and criminal behaviour in the ranks of the police which needs to be aired in public,” says deputy chief executive at the SAIRR, Frans Cronjé.
Cronjé says the survey found:
» The cases studied by researchers fitted into a general pattern of behaviour that was common across the country;
» Police criminality did not relate only to corruption;
» The police’s occasional argument that “people committing crimes in police uniforms are not necessarily policemen” is unconvincing. The survey found that in more than 40 cases police officers on duty and in uniform and/or driving state vehicles had committed crimes - often with their service weapons; and
» There were low conviction rates for offending police officers.
Cronjé emphasises that police officers are under enormous stress as the murder rate in South Africa is eight times that in the US and 20 times higher than in any other Western country.
Says Cronjé: “In just one year of service, police officers may be exposed to more violence and brutality than officers in other countries may see in their whole careers.
“It would therefore not be surprising to learn that their own violent behaviour may first and foremost be a product of the very violent world they inhabit, and for this we need to have a great measure of sympathy.”
The report, titled Broken Blue Line, proposes that:
» The ICD be placed under a new parent ministry such as the justice department;
» Existing trauma debriefing programmes for police are inadequate and research into the extent of post-traumatic stress disorder in police ranks is needed; and
» Levels of discipline, command and control in the police seem low and need to be enforced.
The report suggests the ICD should rather be reporting to the department of justice and that a new “hunter force” should be establish to infiltrate police stations and actively root out criminal officers.