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Durban - Police in KwaZulu-Natal were investigated for 772 alleged crimes in the past financial year, including 24 rapes and 146 deaths, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), has revealed.
Its report, released on Tuesday, paints a bleak picture of police wrongdoing, including assault and torture, with cases against KZN’s men and women in blue rising 60 percent in a year, where 484 cases were reported in 2011/12.
Ten officers were imprisoned in KZN in the 2012/13 financial year, according to the report, which highlighted the Marikana massacre and the suspension of the SAPS Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit as the most high profile cases for the directorate in the year.
Nationally, there were 6 728 new criminal cases against the SAPS and municipal police for the period April 2012 to March 2013, resulting in 57 criminal convictions and 84 disciplinary convictions.
KZN violence monitor, Mary de Haas, said the provincial statistics were “abnormally high”, especially the deaths of people at police actions.
“During apartheid, when people died (at the hands of police) there was an outcry,” she said.
On deaths in police custody, De Haas said this was difficult to quantify because evidence depended on the findings of forensics staff, whose quality of work she described as poor.
De Haas questioned the effectiveness of the supposedly independent police watchdog, saying issues of conflict arose when former policemen were deployed in the same areas they operated as policemen, making it difficult for them to fulfil their duties.
“There’s a huge problem with Ipid, it should be independent of the office of the police minister,” she said.
“There is a shortage of skilled investigators and there are quite a few people within who are not skilled. Management as well - we have a provincial head who’s appointed in an acting role, who feels constrained because they do not want to rock the boat too much because they want the promotion.”
Recommendations made by Ipid, such as enforcing disciplinary hearings against the police, were often ignored by the police, she said.
“Ipid does not seem to have the power to force disciplinary hearings on policemen. Often the police stall on these recommendations and don’t proceed to put an officer before a disciplinary hearing, and that tends to be a bit of a joke.”
De Haas described the 57 criminal convictions in KZN as being far too low.
“Cases that are finalised could have taken years, but that is a really low rate. The conviction rate should be far higher, at least as close to 50 percent as possible,” she said.
She said the 60 percent spike in cases reported in the province could be due to people being more aware, but emphasised that Ipid should be focusing more on investigating every case once reported to it.
Ipid in KZN had worked on a total of 861 cases in the past financial year, but only 308 (36 percent) were finalised.
The report explained that a sizeable amount of Ipid investigators were channelled to deal with the Marikana massacre and the investigation of the disbanded SAPS Cato Manor unit.
The DA’s spokeswoman on policing, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said the national figures were “staggering and disgraceful”.
She said the 37 percent increase in criminal cases against police across the country was due to “poor governance and management”, and pointed an accusing finger at Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega.
“Alarm bells should be ringing loudly in Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s ears. The image of the SAPS continues to be battered due to a seemingly endless stream of reports detailing incompetence, corruption, fraud, bullying as well as the major criminal activities such as assault and murder,” Kohler Barnard said.
“The levels of police criminality and brutality in our country have continued to rise. This can be directly attributed to poor governance and management at senior levels.
“The portfolio committee on police must urgently launch a full investigation into these figures, now that the report is before Parliament… This report cannot be filed away as just another tick-box exercise - decisive action must be taken because our people deserve better,” she said.
Nationally, there were 669 recorded incidents of death, 50 cases of alleged torture and 168 alleged rapes involving either on- or off-duty policemen.
However the figures do not reflect actual deaths: Ipid’s report told of incidents, and although 34 Marikana miners were killed by police in August last year, this was recorded as one case.
In a twist to the statistics, the report states another 37 incidents of deaths were reported, but further investigations showed these fell outside the watchdog’s mandate.
“These cases should therefore be excluded from the 706 incidents reported”, said the Ipid report, which nevertheless includes them in the 706 death tally in all its tables and lists.
Around two-thirds of the complaints against police relate to assault.
Officially the SAPS has acknowledged it faced civil claims of R7 billion - although it has been argued the figure could be as high as R14bn - and another R204 million set aside for its lawyers.
From the report’s national figures it emerged that Ipid recorded 275 “incidents of death” in police custody and 431 as a result of police action.
Deaths in police custody are up an overall 19 percent from the previous year. Gauteng tops the list with 52 such incidents of deaths, although this is down from the previous year’s 58.
KZN recorded a 2 percent increase to 44 incidents and the Western Cape a 21 percent increase to 29 incidents of death.
But in North West the numbers increased by 156 percent to 23 deaths, while Limpopo saw an 89 percent increase and Mpumalanga 71 percent.
The number of incidents in which people died because of police action dropped to 431, compared to the previous year’s 488.
Gauteng recorded the most such incidents, 118, followed by KZN (102) and Eastern Cape (47).
In the majority of cases, 422, deaths happened at the crime scene, while 131 deaths were recorded at hospitals.
Most deaths in police custody came about because of injuries sustained in custody, although in 73 cases these injuries were sustained prior to arrest when the suspect was assaulted by community members.
There were also four suicides prior to being taken into custody.
Of the 94 suicides in custody, “prohibited items”, including belts, jerseys, shoelaces and strips of blankets or mattresses were used to commit suicide.
“This goes against the relevant SAPS standing order for custody management,” the report said.
The Western Cape tops the list of alleged police rapes with 37 cases, involving 30 off-duty officers and seven on duty.
Gauteng follows with 27 such cases and KZN with 24.
Ipid also investigated 22 incidents of rape in police custody, involving 13 officers in three provinces: the Free State, Gauteng and KZN.
The incidents of torture included one of electrocution, 12 of suffocation and 37 of beatings, the Ipid report said.