Cape Town - Long-range bugging devices, night vision goggles and a network of “information gatherers” make up a R3.3 billion public order policing shopping list needed to combat an “upsurge against state authority” facing the thin blue line.
Riot police also wanted to almost triple their numbers to 12 779 over the next four years to enhance public order policing, amid a steadily rising number of community protests, the parliamentary police committee heard on Wednesday.
Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela, the divisional commander in charge of public order policing, said: “The defiance of state authority through attacks on police stations and other community-orientated institutions such as libraries and clinics cannot be tolerated and the rule of law must prevail.
“The stability of the republic is essential, especially in the run-up to the local government elections in 2016. Hence it is important to have efficient, professional and effective public order policing.”
The plea to MPs to agree to the additional financial allocation over four years from the 2015/16 financial year comes amid yet another policy about-turn within the police.
Under former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi it was decided to downscale public order policing and include it in the visible policing component. In 2002 the public order police, commonly known as riot police, were renamed and at least 15 units were mothballed.
But numbers had started to dwindle from as early as 1995. A year after the first democratic elections there were 11 000 public order police officers across 42 units, but by 2011 there were just 4 197 officers in 31 units. Currently there are 4 721 public order police officers in 27 units.
Police generals on Wednesday admitted public order policing, also known as POP, was not up to strength: the Western Cape had just 352 POP officers when it should have between 500 and 550, and Gauteng, which had 568 officers, should have at least 800.
Under current plans, the Western Cape would ultimately have 1 181 POP officers, Gauteng 1 803, and numbers in KwaZulu-Natal would rise to 1 899, up from the current 944 officers.
The new force numbers, including the establishment of eight new units, were determined according to need, based at least in part on community protests that had to be policed, regardless of whether they were violent or not, said national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega.
During the 2013/14 financial year there were 11 601 community protests, of which 1 907 were violent - categorised as “unrest” in police-speak. This was up from the 2007/8 financial year when of the 7 209 protests, 812 were classified as unrest, according to a police slide presentation to MPs.
Questions were raised when it emerged the riot police also wanted to recruit 1 005 information gathers, 387 investigating officers and 52 legal officers.
In what appeared to be a lack of confidence in the existing information and intelligence systems, Phiyega explained: “If there’s going to be a blocked road tomorrow, someone in the community knows.”
It also emerged that a new structure - the national joint operations centre (Natjoints) - had been formed to bring together all justice, crime prevention and security cluster departments. It could also second members from other departments: for example, basic education if schools were involved in a matter requiring public order policing.