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Police training in spotlight

Johannesburg - A split-second decision that went wrong and ended with the death of a cop.

On Monday afternoon, Constable Michael Thembani Tshomela, 31, was shot dead, allegedly by members of the Jeppestown police station.

A police crime-scene expert removes the body of an officer who was killed in a shootout with other cops in Joburg. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu. Credit: THE STAR

Now that death has focused attention on police training.

It was a case of tragic mistaken identity caused, say experts, by cops not following procedure and a hole in the police’s training programme.

Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, said that while he didn’t know the full details of the incident, it did appear that police procedure as stipulated by section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act had not been followed.

“You need to try to convince the suspect to give themselves up and this can be telling them: ‘Stop or I will shoot,’ ” said Burger.

“You have to shout loud enough for them to hear you. And it doesn’t look like the police officers were shouting.”

Professor Anthony Minnaar, of the School of Criminal Justice at Unisa, said studies had shown that the police were not being trained properly on how to deal with life-threatening situations, where they might need to use their firearms.

“A student of mine wrote a Master’s dissertation on the police and the use of force, and found that while they were given theoretical training at police college, they were given no practical training,” said Minnaar.

He said overseas law enforcement agencies such as the FBI in the US trained with real-life situations, honing the recruit’s ability to make correct split-second decisions.

Minnaar said the Master’s student had asked police members if the theoretical training they received at police college had helped them in their work, and most of them had said no.

Another concern is the quality of marksmanship and gun handling among police officers.

On average, said Burger, police were given firearm training once a year.

“There is enough evidence to suggest that not all policemen even attend their annual shooting exercise. A large percentage of ordinary policemen are not competent with their firearms.”

He knew of incidents where police officers could handle their issued firearms safely only with the help of an instructor.

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