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Cape Town - South Africa’s police force is increasingly violent against the people it is supposed to protect, researchers have found.
Brutality cases recorded against police officers increased by 313 percent in the 10 years 2001/2 to 2011/12, the annual crime conference of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) was told on Wednesday.
The 4th Annual Conference on National and International Perspectives on Crime and Criminal Justice, which is being held in Johannesburg, heard that the SAPS was increasingly becoming the subject of complaints of brutality, “with a reputation for corruption”.
Simultaneously, mass recruitment “has weakened systems and put poorly trained police on the streets”, the ISS reported.
ISS Crime and Justice Programme director Gareth Newham reported that a total of 11 880 criminal cases had been opened with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) during the five years to 2011/12.
However, this had resulted in just 2 576 prosecutions and 129 convictions. This means that only 1 percent of criminal cases opened against police officials ends in a conviction.
Of the 720 deaths reported to Ipid in 2011/12, 22 percent of cases were referred to the National Prosecuting Authority because of some evidence of criminality, Newham reported.
Similarly, the number of disciplinary hearings which ended in a dismissal of a police member had decreased, from 12.2 to 9.6 percent between 2009/10 and 2011/12.
In 2011/12 more than a third (36 percent) of disciplinary hearings ended with no sanction against the officer, and a total of 2 049 cases were withdrawn or ended in a not guilty verdict, Newham said. “It appears police misconduct is met with impunity,” he said. “The single most likely outcome of a case against the police is no outcome.”
This “undermined the morale of and public trust in the many honest police officers who do their work professionally and within the rules”.
For the taxpayer the news was equally bleak, as civil claims valued at more than R840 million in relation to assault had been laid, and R1.1 billion related to shooting incidents. Total claims against the police had doubled in the past two years, to R14.8bn.
Newham reported that 1 448 currently serving police officials in the SAPS had convictions for serious crimes, ranging from murder to rape and assault.
“Why are convicted criminals allowed to continue to serve in the organisation responsible for law and order?” he asked.
The SAPS budget had increased 222 percent to R66.7bn over the 10 years from 2003/4 to 2013/14, and police personnel had increased by more than 50 percent, or 67 035 posts, during 2002/3 to 2011/12.
But while this mass recruitment into the police was “understandable” in the face of high crime, it had been “poorly thought through by police senior management” and had resulted “in large numbers of police on streets who were poorly trained, managed and supported”, the ISS said.
“Throwing more money and people at the police is not the solution. We don’t need more people in police uniforms - we need professional police officers who are better trained, motivated and managed,” Newham charged.