Parliament - Special focus will be placed on changing the perceived military-style approach of public order policing (POP) units, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said on Monday.
Opening debate on the police budget vote, Nhleko said police allocated significant resources during the 2013/14 financial year to resourcing the POP units with new equipment.
Training of POP officers was also prioritised.
“In the intervening period, 1826 members successfully attended POP refresher training, on crowd management techniques for operational readiness; 60 members were trained as video camera operators and information managers to capture footage during crowd-related incidents,” Nhleko said.
“All these efforts are conducted in line with the national vision of demilitarising the police services as well as putting in place a civilian approach to public order policing with a view to reduce the levels of militaristic or perceived militaristic approach to public order policing.”
The POP units would play a vital role in stabilising areas affected by service delivery protests.
“In the past few years, there has been a spate of service delivery protests around the country which have stretched our capacity to maintain order as mandated by Section 205 1/83 3/8 of the Constitution,” Nhleko said.
“A total number of 13 575 community-related protest incidents were responded to and successfully stabilised.”
The protests stemmed mainly from labour disputes and unhappiness with service delivery by local municipalities.
“Of the 13 575 incidents, 11 668 were conducted peacefully and 1907 turned violent which led to the arrest of 2522 individuals,” Nhleko said.
He did not specify in which time period the protests took place.
“We will continue to attend to these community protests with vigilance as we have done in the past with the sole intention of ensuring that we secure property and life of all South Africans.”
The minister also announced a raft of legislative and policy reviews will be introduced over the next financial year.
This would include a review of the SAPS (SA Police Service) Act to “align it with the Constitution”.
Research would be done into how police could reduce “the barriers to the reporting of cases of violence against women and children, serial murders and rapes”.
A review on how community policing forums and community safety forums could help police in stabilising areas affected by service delivery protests would also be prioritised over the next few months.
A renewed focus would be placed on professionalising the service.
“As part of the process of professionalisation in the police service, we have approved changes to the recruitment strategy of entry-level constables with a view to ensure that only the best-suited candidates are recruited into the SAPS,” Nhleko said.
“All our new recruits will be taken through rigorous testing for their suitability before they start with their formal training.”
Police recruits will be thoroughly vetted, tested for physical fitness and behaviour patterns.
“These changes have been introduced as part of the Community Based Recruitment Strategy that is aimed at addressing challenges such as pending and/or previous convictions, fraudulent qualifications and to avoid nepotism in the recruitment of officers,” Nhleko said.
“In terms of this strategy, the role of the community in commenting on their suitability will also assist in completing the 360-degree cycle of suitability testing.”