Restore our faith in the police force

2009-11-20 00:00

A LOT has been said about government’s “shoot-to-kill” statements. Because of premature implementation, these statements have already caused the devastating loss of several innocent lives in different parts of the country.

Civil society organisations have expressed due shock at these incidents and it is difficult to blame the public for being scornful of the very system that should be protecting them. It leaves a very bitter taste when authorities utter statements to the effect that the death of innocent people is unavoidable in the implementation of this new policy. What happened to human rights for all in this country?

However, while it is comforting to play the blame game, it is also necessary to try to remedy the situation. Pardon me, but even before this latest public relations nightmare, the police were not well regarded by many South Africans. Forget apartheid-related police crimes. I’m talking about post-1994 attitudes of the police force. If you could go through the Independent Complaints Directorate database, I bet you would find issues relating to undue use of force by the police during investigation, hate speech, gross violation of human rights, the loss of case dockets and cases not being followed up. The list is endless.

However, there are solutions to this. The police could harness this energy focused on pulling the trigger and redirect it towards running programmes that create relationships between the police and society, to improve our faith in the system as a whole.

I live in Edendale. Pardon me once again, as I may say this out of ignorance and lack of information, but having witnessed things that are happening in different communities around Pietermaritzburg, I can frankly say that awareness-related activities by the police have not happened in our black townships. I read community newspapers that carry reports of police activities which take place in suburban communities that are predominantly white or Indian. These activities are also needed in black townships.

In my 13 years of primary and secondary education I don’t remember the police coming to any of my schools to create awareness about violence or substance and drug abuse, and the related consequences. I don’t remember hearing about it any time after I left school. In the last couple of years, underage drinking has become the norm for teenagers in townships. The police have the opportunity to be visible in society, create awareness, advise on preventative measures and educate the communities on how these problems can be dealt with by the community as a collective.

The past few years have also seen a growing number of children dying on school premises at the hands of their fellow school-mates. While the police may not always be there when these incidents happen, the police could work with the schools to organise and run different outdoor activities and parades for school children. The police could contribute to creating harmonious relationships between children, which could reduce stress among the children so that they fight less.

It is not only the children who require outdoor activities. People who have a good education and decent jobs have access to different ways to destress. As a result, those people will reason better when under pressure and when faced with a compromising situation. However, the majority of our working class do not have access to these destressing activities. Once again, here is an opportunity for the police to provide outdoor activities to communities and get the community to engage with the police. This is where platforms for co-operation between society and the police can be established.

Gender-based violence and domestic violence are growing in our society and children are being left orphaned. The police have laughed at these cases. While the police may not be able to provide counselling for troubled couples, a police station is a good centre to refer such couples to. The police could also play a major role in campaigning against violence against women and children.

Criminals will have a harder time if the police become more visible in communities, patrolling the streets at night and trying to educate people about the dangers of being out at night alone.

It is quite obvious that these shoot-to-kill statements are misleading and are quite provocative in the mind of a trigger-happy police officer. What should rather be asked is what the police can do to harness positive energy and do something good for the this country, so that our faith in the force may be restored.

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