Police code of silence illegal, watchdog warns
More deaths in police custody have been reported in KwaZulu-Natal than in any other province.
Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) boss Francois Beukman, who made the shock revelation on Monday, also noted that KZN was among the provinces where the most complaints against the police were logged.
Speaking to journalists during a briefing at Parliament, Beukman warned that police officers who preserve a code of silence on crimes committed by fellow officers are themselves guilty of a crime and will be prosecuted.
He said the directorate viewed “in a very serious light” the fact that alleged police misdemeanours were not being reported.
Speaking during the presentation of the regulations in terms of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act – legislation that granted the watchdog greater powers to launch investigations into police conduct – Beukman said while reporting had increased in many areas since the directorate’s establishment, there were areas in which there was late reporting or non-reporting of alleged criminal activities by police.
“This is in violation of section 29 of the Ipid Act. Failure to report, or late reporting, is a criminal offence,” he said.
The directorate would ensure those who did not comply with reporting obligations were “charged criminally and brought before the courts”.
The directorate, which was established on April 1 this year in place of the Independent Complaints Directorate, after the legislation was enacted to give it more powers, is intended to ensure independent oversight over the SAPS and the Municipal Police Services, and to conduct independent investigations of identified criminal offences allegedly committed by members of the police, and to make appropriate recommendations.
Beukman said the directorate had dealt with about 5 000 complaints a year against SAPS members, of which about 680 were cases of death as a result of police action.
“The trend is continuing from the previous year, but there is a significant increase in assaults as well. It is now an obligation – they (police) must report those assaults to us.”
The provinces from which the directorate received the most complaints were KZN, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
Beukman said cases in progress included the appearance of 12 members of the Bellville organised crime unit in court last month for the murder of Sidwell Mkwambi and the torture and assault of others.
This was just one of “many cases of torture that we are dealing with around the country”, Beukman said.
The Ficksburg trial of the seven policemen charged with the assault and murder of Andries Tatane was another example.
“This trial shows that the police must account for the manner in which they use force in the exercise of their duties,” Beukman said.
Other cases were five members of the Klerksdorp organised crime unit appearing in court on allegations of torturing suspects and 15 members of the tactical response team in Hammarsdale, KZN, who were appearing in court regarding the assault and killing of a man suspected of having stolen a police firearm.
Beukman said the Ipid Act and regulations placed the primary reporting obligations on the station commander and members of the SAPS, “because most of the offences that must be investigated by the directorate are first reported to police stations”.
However, this did not preclude members of the public from reporting directly to the directorate.
“The act and regulations state that reporting must be immediate, by telephone, and within 24 hours in writing.”
Beukman said the timeframe set for finalising investigations into deaths and other types of investigations was 90 days.
The directorate would be required to table two reports in Parliament every year on its work, unlike the ICD, which reported only once a year.
Asked why the Ipid was not probing the murder allegations against suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, the directorate’s acting head of investigations, Matthews Sesoko, said while the directorate had a mandate to probe the murder charges, these had been laid before its formation, and the investigation had already been conducted by the Hawks.
Asked to comment on recent revelations that about 20 000 police officers who were not qualified to use firearms were still using them, Beukman said the directorate would make recommendations on the matter to the SAPS and the police secretariat.
“We pick up the trends and report on them… but it is a SAPS management issue, and they should respond by dealing with that.”
Asked whether he believed the current upheaval in the leadership of the police was having an effect on the behaviour of ordinary members, Beukman said: “We are investigating individual conduct by members, so it is difficult to make that scientific deduction.”