Vusi Pikoli holds police to account

2015-07-07 06:00

Promoting transparency and accountability in the police service is the task of South Africa’s first police ombudsman.

The ombudsman’s office was established under the Western Cape Community Safety Act and is the only one in the country.

Ombudsman Vusi Pikoli, previously head of the National Prosecuting Authority, says the provincial department of community safety was receiving many service delivery complaints from the public. These were then forwarded on to the police, as the department was not legally empowered to investigate any of them. The Act now takes advantage of national legislation allowing provincial government to investigate complaints or set up a commission of enquiry, as was seen with the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry.

However, the ombudsman operates entirely independently of provincial government, Pikoli says, and the office will “fiercely protect” that independence.

“We don’t play politics here,” he says. “The question of crime affects everybody and we need the public and police to trust and have confidence in us.”

Service delivery

The ombudsman’s office oversees 151 stations across the province and 21 000 officers. Over 40 of these stations fall in the Cape Town metro. The office only has three investigators, which makes this a mammoth task.

Since the office opened in mid-January, it has received almost 150 complaints and enquiries, of which 48 have been resolved.

The office aims to conclude a complaint within three months, depending on the complexity of the case, Pikoli says.

The ombudsman only deals with service delivery complaints, such as the failure of the police to arrive after being called out or being rude to public visiting a police station.

The office also looks into court cases which have been thrown out due to investigations taking too long, lost dockets or witnesses not subpoenaed.

Sustainable solutions

The ombudsman looks to find systemic failures and come up with sustainable solutions, Pikoli explains. For every complaint the office validates the claims and approaches the police station in question for “their side of the story”.

“The majority of officers are good, law-abiding people who want to do their job well. There are only a few who are not diligent and tarnish the name of the police,” he says.

The ombudsman’s vision is to build a society in which there is trust and respect between the police and the community, Pikoli says.

“If there is trust, crime will be reported. But this trust has to be earned. The police must respect the community, and the community must respect the police. Our vision is of a police service that is accountable,” he says.

Complaints can be made about the police, traffic officers and metro police in writing or an appointment can be made with the office. For more information, contact the ombudsman on 021 483 0669 or ombudsman@westerncape.­gov.­za.

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