How ‘copwatch’ could change SA policing

2014-07-20 06:00

Police officers beware: social media is watching you, and your bosses believe that’s a good thing.

“People have a camera or video camera on their mobile phones,” says Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, the national secretary of the police.

“We think this is a good thing. The police need to start realising they are constantly monitored by the public.”

Irish-Qhobosheane says she doesn’t think police officers are necessarily more brutal today – it’s just that their behaviour is more likely to be caught on camera and spread online.

Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), says social media sites in countries like the US and Canada have already had a huge impact on how the police do their job.

“There they speak about ‘copwatch’.

Civilians organise themselves into teams that literally follow the police with video cameras and record everything they do,” says Burger.

“This has a positive effect because the police know there is probably a camera photographing everything they do – which they are sometimes aware of and sometimes not – and this has a restraining effect on their behaviour.”

Among the worst instances of police brutality caught on camera in South Africa is footage of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia being dragged behind a police van. Macia subsequently died.

This video, made by a bystander and published by the Daily Sun after doing the rounds on social media, served as evidence in the internal police disciplinary hearing against eight of the nine police officers involved.

All eight were dismissed from the police this month and face charges of murder.

Irish-Qhobosheane says: “What we see with police services internationally is that these incidents attract much more attention than five or 10 years ago, before the days of social media.”

The secretariat does not investigate complaints of police violence itself, but refers these to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

Irish-Qhobosheane’s office has received more than 1 200 complaints against police officers in the past year.

Less than 5% were complaints of police brutality, she says – most related to alleged corruption and poor service.

Burger says social media and the use of video to monitor police officers is transforming policing.

“We will in due course follow in the US’s footsteps. I have no doubt this is the way South Africa will go.”

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