Violent protests a challenge for cops - union

2012-10-16 22:29
Riot police (Picture: AFP)

Riot police (Picture: AFP)

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Cape Town - Police are being challenged to the extreme because of the violent nature of recent public protests, the SA Police Union (Sapu) told MPs on Tuesday.

More needed to be done to get community structures to help police in quelling public unrest, Sapu second vice president Thabo Matsose said.

"We are concerned because public unrest takes place in the context of violence and violent crimes in our society, and the police often find themselves in compromising situations," said Matsose.

Matsose told Parliament's portfolio committee on police that officers often did not escape the violence, with some being killed during unrest.

He called on MPs to help them find ways to revive community policing forums and community safety forums, which he said were not provided with proper resources.

The SA Police Service annual report, released last month, showed another sharp rise in the number of service delivery protests.

Over 1 000 protests were termed violent.

Matsoso said while public order policing units had been resourced to deal with protests, police could not do it alone.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the Institute for Security Studies.

"You [are] looking at a number of two million people involved in violent protests in the past five years which had a police response," said ISS crime and justice head Gareth Newham.

Newham said while much of the anger during protests was directed at local government, police were obliged to respond.

"The police response is to go there and try and stabilise the situation, largely by firing teargas, rubber bullets... to disperse people and to prevent people from doing the kind of damage they can," said Newham.

He said the police response created its own set of problems.

"This means that the people involved see police as part of the problem and they stop reporting crime... "

The senior ISS researcher said this trend provided a space for non-state actors, like gangs, to take over communities and become a form of social order.

"It can undermine both public trust and police safety," he said.

Read more on:    police  |  institute for security studies  |  sapu  |  protests

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