Cape Town -
More than 1 000 criminals, including killers, rapists and thieves, are working as police officers and a special rooting-out process, the first of its kind in South African history, means they now all face being kicked out of the service.
Police have confirmed dismissal notices have been prepared for the bulk of the officers, but an interdict brought on by the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) in the Eastern Cape has resulted in their removals being stalled.
Of the 1 448 police officers around the country with criminal records, 140 are from the Western Cape.
And these figures are probably higher as they have not been updated since 2010.
On Thursday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced that following an audit into criminality within the police, 1 448 members were found to have criminal records and of these, after legal and labour processes, it was found 1 017 were not fit for service and a process was under way to have them removed.
He said while 67 of the officers had left the service, just over 300 officers still had to appear before boards of fitness – previously formed to look into the convicted police members.
“This is the first time in South Africa’s history that such a process has been undertaken.
“It has proved to be a challenging process for the SAPS but one that will result in a better police service. We are now in the final stages of the procedures,” Mthethwa said.
“The only remaining obstacle now is that a trade union has undertaken legal action in the Eastern Cape in an attempt to derail the process. This is something that SAPS is vigorously opposing,” he said, referring to Popcru’s action.
Last month, the Port Elizabeth Labour Court granted an urgent application, launched by Popcru, which forced the police to stop holding the boards of fitness.
On Thursday, Brin Brody, Popcru’s legal representative in the Eastern Cape, told the Cape Times that Popcru was not against police with criminal records being dismissed.
However, he said Popcru felt differently when it came to police officers with criminal records dating back two or three decades.
Brody said a similar case, involving Popcru in Cape Town, had been suspended, pending the case being heard in Port Elizabeth.
A new date for the Port Elizabeth case to resume was yet to be announced.
Portfolio committee on police chairwoman Annelize van Wyk congratulated Mthethwa on his stance, but was concerned because she said the audit was conducted only until 2010 and did not include officers who could have got criminal records since then. “Ideally, we want SAPS to deal with such issues as and when they occur and not wait for an audit before taking action,” she said.
The DA’s police spokeswoman, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said that during the next parliamentary term the DA would submit parliamentary questions, including asking when the police audit from 2010 to 2013 would occur.
In the Western Cape, at least 140 police officers had criminal records and of these, three had left the service.
The provincial police’s 2012/2013 annual report said there were 21 056 personnel in the Western Cape.
On Thursday, Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said, because of limited policing resources in the province, he had mixed feelings about the police’s drive to have those with criminal records removed.
The Western Cape was among three provinces, along with Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, with the lowest staff numbers of police at production level.
The national audit into identifying police offices with criminal records started roughly four years ago and was wrapped up in July.
Last year, Mthethwa said the audit had involved assessing each police officer’s records – this included processing statistical data, fingerprinting and cross-checking information against a crime information system.
A briefing on the Police Criminality Audit on August 14, summarised on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website, said the audit had three categories: convictions which led to sentences of less than three years, convictions for serious offences and police officers with multiple offences.
Crimes included 917 assaults, 116 attempted murders, 54 murders and 37 rapes.
Other crimes included drug trafficking, kidnapping and robbery.