R7bn cop brutality price tag

Shootings, beatings, torture, wrongful arrests, harassments and assaults are incurring the police billions of rand in damages claims, with the State forking out hundreds of millions of rand in taxpayers’ money in settlements every year.

This information comes days after three protesters were allegedly shot and killed by police during violent protests in KwaZulu-Natal.

The latest killings bring the number of demonstrators killed, allegedly at the hands of police, in the past two months to seven.

The killings occurred on Tuesday when three KwaDukuza residents, including a teenager, were shot dead during protests over increased taxi fares.

The use of force by police and an apparent lack of human rights training for recruits has been slammed by criminologists, with some calling for a review of police management and a reorientation when it comes to the use of force.

And while claims against police have increased by hundreds of millions of rand, police management remains tight-lipped about what they are doing to curb their often wayward, violent and brutal members.

Despite e-mailing questions to national police commissioner General Bheki Cele’s office two weeks ago inquiring about whether human rights formed part of the recruits’ training, his spokesman, Colonel Vish Naidoo, failed to respond.

Asked about the costs the SAPS had incurred and paid out in damages for shootings, assaults and police actions, Naidoo referred the Pretoria News to the police annual report. A review of the SAPS’ past five annual reports, from the 2005/6 financial year to the 2009/10 financial year, shows that pending damages claims against SAPS assaults, shootings and police actions amounted to R6.7 billion, while police paid out more than R190 million in damages for assaults, shootings and police actions during the same period.

The Pretoria News understands that the amounts paid out in damages each year are not necessarily for the amounts incurred in that specific year and could be for damages claimed in previous years.

The reports reveal that over the past five years, the costs the police incurred for assaults have more than tripled, from R52.7m in the 2005/6 financial year to R186.5m in 2009/10.

For that same period, the costs the SAPS incurred for wayward police action increased by R700m, from R1bn to R1.7bn.

When it came to shootings, the costs the police incurred more than quadrupled from R69.6m in 2005/6 to R235.9m in 2009/10.

In terms of pay-outs over the past five financial years, the police on average paid R2m a year for assaults by its members, while pay-outs for police actions, such as wrongful arrests and harassment, over the same period increased from R19.6m to R51.9m.

When it came to shootings, liability pay-outs decreased over the same period from R7.6m in 2005/6 to R5.3m in 2009/10.

David Bruce, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said the pay-outs and damages incurred were another reason the government needed to attach greater priority to the question of proper control when it came to the use of force by police.

“There is clearly a need for strengthening police management, especially when it comes to addressing issues on the use of force.

“Effectively, what these claims mean is that more harm is being done by police than good,” he said.

Bruce said there was an urgent need for overall reorientation of police in their approach to the use of force. “When it comes to training we can surmise that it is inconsistent.

“The overall tone set by police leadership on the use of force is having a profound impact, especially when it comes to what happens in training,” he said.

Institute of Security Studies policing expert Johan Burger said training was of serious concern with not enough trainers or facilities for the thousands of new recruits entering the police force.

“The SAPS has simply grown too quickly for its training capabilities.

“While specialised units often receive the necessary specialised training, it is impossible to do this for all station members. Not only does this apply to specialised training, but also to firearm refresher and legal training courses.

“Even with Cele’s admission that they had taken in numbers over quality, and the extension of the recruit training period to address these problems, it does not address the problem of those already employed by the police, who simply should not be in the police in the first place,” he said. – Pretoria News