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Durban - South Africa’s police officers are to enroll in a proposed in-house university from January to stay one step ahead of “smarter criminals”.
But the government plan to convert a Western Cape police academy into the University for Police has been slammed in some quarters, with the DA voicing concern about its curriculum, budget and resources.
“One can’t just buy a building and from tomorrow it is a university. There must be legislation. It’s an extensive process and has to be internationally accredited,” DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, a member of the parliamentary portfolio committee on police, told the Daily News. “It is appalling that we had no answers to our questions.”
Kohler Barnard said the committee expected to be told on Friday more of what the plan entailed.
“We have police stations without water or electricity, but the department feels it can spend untold millions and keep it secret from our committee,” she said.
“We cannot approve something when we know nothing about it and the courses that will be offered. Would these courses be any different to those offered at the police academies? We’re not impressed.”
Police management had unveiled the plan to convert the Paarl SAPS Academy into a university last month, saying it would start offering Bachelor of Policing degrees with a view to taking these to higher levels, such as Honours, Master’s and doctorates.
The Police Ministry at the time welcomed the idea, saying the university programme would be drawn up in consultation with Unisa and the Council on Higher Education and would enhance and improve police skills capacity.
“With economic and technological developments taking place in our country and globally, dealing with crime poses various challenges for police, hence it becomes even more crucial to have better-trained (and) equipped police officers,” the ministry said last month.
It said strict criteria would be used to select students for enrolment, based on SAPS and tertiary requirements.
Initially, 120 police officers would be enrolled part-time or full-time, and lecturers from other universities in specialist fields such as forensics would be approached to offer courses, ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said.
He said the police needed to be a step ahead of the smarter criminals they were fighting.
“We’re not doing away with police academies or colleges.”
The university would be based more on a business school model than be run as a typical tertiary institution with a principal and vice-chancellor, he said.
Funding for the university would come from the police department’s human resources and training budget, Mnisi said, adding that the costs would not be too high as an established facility would be used.
“Pupils dreaming of becoming doctors or lawyers settle for being a police officer because of their socio-economic conditions,” he said.
“With the university, we hope to make being an officer one’s first choice and passion.”
Lieutenant-General Nobubele Mbekela, the divisional commissioner responsible for SAPS human resource development, was expected to provide more information on the university to the parliamentary committee on Friday.
Mbekela said the department had been working since 2011 on a plan to develop the academy in Paarl into a university.
“It became clear that sending SAPS members to universities was becoming expensive, whereas presenting such courses in the SAPS facilities would be more cost-effective,” she had told the committee in an earlier briefing.
Mbekela said open universities appeared to be unable to address the needs of the police force.
A police university would ensure preservation of the police culture and identity, “which appears to be eroding”.
She said police management was in talks with the Department of Higher Education and Training and Unisa, but that a memorandum of understanding had yet to be signed and programmes had yet to be accredited.
Mary de Haas, of the KZN Violence Monitor, questioned the need for the university, saying it was a waste of money.
“The ministry should instead look at making sure police officers are properly qualified. It’s a case of putting the cart before the horse,” she said.