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Public trust in the police is at its lowest in the Western Cape, new report shows

Minister of Police Bheki Cele during a visit to the community of Beacon Valley in Mitchell's Plain. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Minister of Police Bheki Cele during a visit to the community of Beacon Valley in Mitchell's Plain. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Apr 5, 2022

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Cape Town - Public trust in the police is at its lowest in the Western Cape, trailing the national average by 7%.

A recently released report by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) found that in the 2010-2021 period, the public in the Western Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng had consistently reported figures below the national average.

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The dramatic decline in trust observed during this period was unevenly reflected across the provinces, with the largest decline in police confidence in the Western Cape.

The survey, conducted in the last quarter of each year, found that public trust in the police dipped to a low of 27%, from 34% in 2020, with the Western Cape exceeding the national decline of 7 percentage points.

The largest decline in police confidence was in the Western Cape, by more than 20%, from 43% in 2020 to 22% in 2021.

Manenberg CPF chairperson Vanessa Adriaanse said the police were reversing the hard work done by the policing forums in ensuring good relations with the community, which she said took “forever” to build.

“You have the community leaders that are working tirelessly to ensure a change in the community and you have the police that are failing our communities, thereby straining the delicate relations which we work hard for,” she said.

Nyanga Cluster CPF chairperson Martin Makhasi said the police needed to show communities they were serious about resolving the issue of corruption. He said reports of police members convicted of crimes needed to be made public.

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HSRC researcher Steven Gordon said the pattern of public confidence in the police from 1998 to 2021 had remained relatively low throughout and that not even once in 23 years did more than half of the respondents say they trusted the police.

Gordon said this was due to several factors: personal experiences of crime, negative police experiences, publicised instances of police abuse or failure, and perceptions of police corruption.

Newly appointed national police commissioner Fannie Masemola said after his appointment that his priority would be to change the public perception of the police.

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Masemola said his priority would be to build and strengthen community-police relations. He said he would work on both the morale and the integrity of police members.

“We know what the community needs and the most basic and generic thing is that when they call, there must be somebody that answers the call. And thereafter, there must be somebody that responds to the call,” Masemola said.

Action Society spokesperson Ian Cameron said good relations were important because when they decreased, poorer communities resorted to vigilante justice while affluent communities spent money on private security.

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“Communities are fed up with reporting crime with no results,” he said.

Guy Lamb, a criminologist and political scientist at Stellenbosch University, said in the Western Cape the breakdown in relations between police and community in high-crime areas was largely due to frustrations by residents feeling he police weren’t doing their job. H

e said if members of the public did not trust the police they did not report crimes to the police or they did not work with the police to help identify suspects and apprehend them. As a result, some crime rates did not decrease.

“The police commissioner can prioritise police professionalism, where better treatment of residents by officials at the station level is emphasised.

“He must also invest more in community police forums, as these are where residents and the police meet to discuss crime problems.

“Also, if Masemola can make a strong, concerted effort to deal with corruption within the SAPS, then we’ll probably see a turnaround in the relationship with community members,” Lamb said.

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