Today saw a number of witnesses appear before the Commission of Inquiry to provide further expert evidence and recommendations.
Dr Lisa Grobler who recently published a book on police corruption and criminality, stressed the need to re-introduce professionalism at station level. She noted that the biggest problem faced when it came to combatting police corruption is the fact that the SAPS do not have any system in place to prevent internal corruption. Grobler noted that a strategy had been developed in the 1990s; however it is yet to be properly implemented. Commenting on this problem Grobler stated, “SAPS is more inclined not to do anything about it at the moment and just leave it on the agenda”. She went on to raise concern at the lack of “political will” when it came to battling this problem and emphasized the need for the Department of Community Safety to work together with the SAPS to tackle the scourge of corruption in the police force.
Grobler advocated for a “professional standards unit” or a “police professional board” to be set up immediately as an interim solution which could have greater control over disciplinary matters. Other measures Grobler suggested were random drug testing of police personnel and lifestyle surveillance which could help detect signs of possible corrupt activity.
Ms Clare Ballard from the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative provided insight into the need for independent oversight of police stations. She argued that oversight is not simply overseeing what the police do, it must have an objective of improving the police and the SAPS must “buy-in” to any suggestions made. Ballard is of the view that members of parliament should also be involved in oversight and that there should be a mechanism created for them to conduct unannounced inspections.
Ms Lisa Vetten drew attention to the fact that FCS (Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences) Unit officers are suffering from trauma due to the content of their work and burnout due to their inability to control the amount of work received. “The emotional resources of people in the FCS units are depleted – they are depressed and traumatised”. Vetten suggested that an external agency, such as a university, should be involved in exploring various options to improve how FCS units operate, including treatment, rotation so as to ease the workload and even FCS members being redeployed to a role in which they may be more suited.
The issue relating to the SAPS working environment is that the vast workload is making it humanly impossible to work through all the dockets, especially where performance is judged by the number of convictions. This is resulting in cases being selected on the basis of the likelihood of conviction, the remainder of which are completely neglected.
Vetten stated that the number of detectives working in the FCS Unit is simply inadequate. There is a backlog of more than 1 000 dockets, and the current solution of bringing people in on a temporary basis as a means of crisis management is short-sighted.
Mr Gareth Newham, the head of the Governance, Crime and Justice Division at the Institute for Security Studies, supported the notion that there is a systematic problem with abuse of power when it came to policing across South Africa. Corruption within the police is a bigger organisational and societal problem and it cannot be blamed on a few “bad apples”. At the cornerstone of improving policing are the principles of transparency and accountability. Quite shockingly, conviction rates for police officials facing charges sit at a dismal 5%. Newham noted that non-corrupt police officials often turn a blind eye because it is too dangerous for them to talk out against the corrupt cops.
The National Development Plan goes so far as to note, “…the serial crises of top management” in the SAPS is preventing it from becoming the respected professional police agency it could be. Newham noted that the only people who can effect change in the system are top management.
Thursday will see a number of further experts appearing before the Commission of Inquiry. These include Prof John Cartwright, Mr Guy Lamb and Dr Julie Berg, who together will look into the phenomenon of vengeance killings which has become prevalent in Khayelitsha. Ms Ntutu Mtwana (City of Cape Town) is set to provide recommendations on improving relations between the police and community members in Khayelitsha. Mr Andy McLean will discuss community policing. Dr Barbara Holtmann will be dealing with crime prevention strategies. Finally, the Commission will be hearing from Prof. Pumla Gobodo Madikizela, who served on the TRC, will provide insight into vigilantism in the area.
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