Individuals should be held accountable

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ST_riyah0 (26836607) INLSA 418 The new National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega during her first press conference after occupying the hot seat at the police academy in Pretoria. 140612. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

I write in support of Hal Venter’s letter (“New top cop on right track”, The Star, July 9) in which he alludes to the shocking degeneration of the SAPS, and his hope that the new national commissioner will effect a long-overdue revitalisation of the culture in our police service.

I fully agree with one of Venter’s prime examples of the woeful service ethic, being the frequent wrongful arrests of people, which causes great distress to innocent parties.

Police officers receive excellent basic training, so the huge number of wrongful arrests without adequate cause can most likely be ascribed to arrogant officers ignoring their training prescripts, and abusing their power, with weak management by their superiors a contributory factor. The evidence supporting police abuse of power is damning. The SAPS has to budget a staggering R11 billion annually for claims against it, many of which are for wrongful arrest. It is a national shame that all that money is wasted on settling damages claims against rogue police officers.

That’s a huge amount of money that could be far better utilised in improving the facilities for police personnel at police stations, adding to better crime-fighting tools and generally combating crime.

I believe that there is a Supreme Court of Appeal decision pending that will rule on the public being able to litigate against police officers in their personal capacity, instead of against the Police Ministry. Such lawsuits against the minister are meaningless. One might gain some justifiable financial relief, but there is invariably no pain felt by the official who actually caused the trauma. If found liable for damages against an individual, the state merely dips into the huge R11bn liability kitty and it’s the public that ends up footing the bill via taxes.

While it will certainly be possible to sue for much larger amounts from the ministry than if one seeks financial redress from the offending police officer, it does little to deter any further policing abuses. Only when rogue police officers start personally feeling the consequences of their actions will the situation improve.

I further suggest that such a strategy be similarly employed to hold other state employees to account. I think particularly of our hospital services where the state also pays out huge amounts in compensation damages to those who have suffered terrible distress from medical malpractice.

People have lost their lives because of the gross incompetence of uncaring medical practitioners.

Only when public servants feel it in their pockets will they think twice before shaming the country with this avalanche of abuse.

Abba Flint

Randhart, Alberton


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