Taxpayers cough up R1bn for payouts in cases against the police

2015-07-27 12:42
A police officer sits in a casper outside the Marikana mine in the North West. (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

A police officer sits in a casper outside the Marikana mine in the North West. (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

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Taxpayers have coughed up more than R860 million over the past six years for payouts following civil claims against members of the South African Police Service.

If settlement agreements entered into by the police since 2011 are also included, the amount increases to more than R1.04 billion.

The SAPS’ annual contingency for civil claims in the past financial year was more than R312 billion. It was recently referred to in Parliament as “a safety net for police officers who can make or break as they like”.

National police spokesperson, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, said: “Police officers are deployed in a violent society where they must fight crime. They also deserve to be protected.”

The police must be defended with money from the state treasury because the claims rose from actions while they were on duty, Naidoo said.

Naidoo, who did not want to elaborate on the legal costs, said an internal unit had been formed to handle internal disciplinary cases timeously.

He also referred to the nature of police work, saying that officers could not be expected to react with a soft approach when they were faced with AK-47s. “There are situations where fire must be answered with fire,” he said.

SAPS annual reports and parliamentary answers from Police Minister Nathi Nhleko showed that, in the 2009-2010 financial year, police forked out about R89 million in legal fees. By March this year, it had risen to more than R278 million.

The annual reports also showed that most of the claims made against the police were for general police action behaviour during arrests, shootings and car accidents.

In 2012, it was reported that an internal police audit showed more than 27 000 police officers – from nearly 157 000 who sat for tests to handle firearms – failed. The SAPS annual report for the financial year 2011-2012 showed the largest payout for claims (about R12.7 million) was for shootings.

Other big payouts were for car accidents.

In the 2010-2011 financial year, when the driving licence requirement for new recruits was suspended, the claim payouts were about R10 million. The requirement has since been reinstated.

Gareth Newham, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said that the rising number in civil claims showed that the public would rather go the legal route than approach the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, because of the duration of investigations by the directorate.

Democratic Alliance member of Parliament Dianne Kohler Barnard said: “It can take years for a victim of police action to get compensation through the courts because the department has a virtually unlimited budget with which it can appeal.

“There are 1448 sentenced criminals in the police service. This creates the impression crime is okay as long as you wear a police badge.”

Read more on:    nathi nhleko  |  police
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