Police impersonation on the rise
The number of incidents of police impersonation in KwaZulu-Natal has risen dramatically this year, with security experts warning that this was undermining the public’s trust in the police.
Brazen criminals were breaking into the homes of police officers to steal their uniforms and were also cloning their identification cards, criminologist and Unisa senior lecturer, Dr Rudolph Zinn, said on Monday. Prisoners he had interviewed as part of his research had also admitted to “hiring” uniforms from police officers.
Zinn spoke to the Daily News after the arrests of five alleged police impostors in Pietermaritzburg at the weekend. It is alleged the men were in possession of unlicensed firearms and police appointment cards, and had committed armed robbery.
The suspects had been targeting well-known business people in the Woodlands area, extorting money from them.
In the past year, the Daily News has reported on several incidents of police impersonation in KZN. In each case, the suspects were in uniform with identification cards.
The SAPS, Zinn said, had no controls in place to monitor if a uniform was returned when an officer died, retired, resigned or was fired.
It was easy to clone police officer’s identification cards, as there were no special features on it,” he added. “Photocopies can be made and placed into a plastic protective cover.”
Police spokesman, Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said the men in Pietermaritzburg were arrested after their red Astra, which matched the description of the car they were looking for, went past the Woodlands police station.
Police recovered police uniforms, appointment cards, R650 in cash and two unlicensed 9mm pistol firearms.
“All five suspects were arrested and charged for the unlicensed possession of firearms, armed robbery and impersonating a police officer,” Mdunge said.
Zinn said he had also looked at photographs of people who had posed as SAPS officers in cash-in-transit heists. But in those cases the uniforms were not genuine, he said. “There was a mixture of the uniform with the shirts and not the regulation trousers. A trained eye can pick this up, but not a layman.”
He advised people who are approached by police officers and are unsure of their authenticity, to contact their local police station or ask the officers to confirm their status over the local police radio. He added that the police vehicle signage could also be checked – its registration number should end with the letter B.
KZN violence monitor, Mary de Haas,
expressed concern about the spate of police impersonation incidents.
“These incidents of police impostors are very dangerous and could easily be inside jobs,” she said. “It’s really quite terrifying, for example, if one lives in a rural area and police come to your house at night without any identification and one can’t verify who they are by calling the local police station. I just hope police are taking these incidents seriously.”
De Haas said the SAPS should be asked how police uniforms were issued and monitored and what happened to the uniforms when an officer retired, resigned or was fired.
Mdunge said police were issued with an allowance to buy their uniforms from the SAPS provincial supply store annually. He said officers were required to return them to their supply chain offices
when no longer needed.
However, the return of SAPS uniforms was difficult to control, which made it easy for criminals, said Zinn.
“There is no system for police to collect uniforms and account for it. There are usually two full sets officers buy with the allowance, but most would buy more with their own funds. There is no real control on the number of uniforms purchased.”
Officers are required to open a criminal case if a uniform is stolen, which would be investigated.
Police identification cards were issued when a member joined the police force or when promoted. He said distinguishing features of the cards are the watermark SAPS emblem; the word SAPS written on top; a photograph of the officer on the left side of the card and the officer’s surname and initials at the bottom.
Should the ID card get lost, the officer had to account for it before another is issued.
Dr Chandré Gould, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said the impostors “undermine one’s trust in the police”. “They [police] should look at this as a matter of urgency.”
The Road Traffic Inspectorate’s (RTI) provincial spokeswoman, Zinhle Mngomezulu, said she had not heard of cases where officers’ uniforms had been stolen.
In a recent case in Pietermaritzburg, she said she was not sure if RTI uniforms were used by the suspects, saying the police khaki uniforms were often confused with security company uniforms.
“If it is confirmed these were RTI uniforms, we would conduct an investigation,” Mngomezulu said. “Our uniforms are issued and monitored by our traffic training college. Should one retire, resign or is fired, they have to return their badges [found on the shoulder and arms of the uniform] to the college. Officers are allowed to keep shirts.”
Mngomezulu said should another uniform be required or exchanged for a different size, the station commander would have to write a motivation and the officer would also have to return the old uniform.
SANDF spokesman, Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, said there had been no incidents reported of people impersonating army officers since 1984. However, on Saturday, an armed teenager wearing an army uniform was arrested in Pietermaritzburg.
Mabanga said the defence force had different sets of uniforms, which were all controlled items which could be returned, exchanged or replaced only with a voucher and identity card produced at their uniform maintenance store.
“We rely on the trust of each member that the uniforms are not given to or worn by anyone else,” Mabanga said. “If it is lost or stolen it has to be reported to the police and would be investigated by the SAPS and SANDF’s military police.”
Cases in KwaZulu-Natal this year
* On Saturday the Mountain Rise SAPS arrested five men for allegedly impersonating police officers. Two weeks earlier, the suspects allegedly tried to rob a business but their plans were foiled. The same men are alleged to have returned to the Pietermaritzburg business on Saturday posing as police officers. They held up staff and made off with an undisclosed amount of money.
The five men appeared in court yesterday. They were remanded in custody until today for further investigation
* On the same day, police received a tip-off about an armed teenager wearing an army uniform. The teen was arrested in Pietermaritzburg and charged with the illegal possession of an unlicensed firearm.
* Earlier this month, it was reported that two men were arrested for impersonating traffic officers. Police had acted on a tip-off from a member of the public who said the two men were trying to flag down motorists in Victoria Road, Pietermaritzburg, demanding money. One was dressed in full Road Traffic Inspectorate uniform while the other had on an RTI officer’s trousers and an army jacket.
* In August the Daily News reported that a team of KZN detectives were trying to find alleged killer Musa “Muzi” Khumalo, who duped police into believing he was a brigadier from the Hawks. Three warrants of arrest have been issued for Khumalo, for murder, escaping from police custody and impersonating a police officer. Khumalo had worked as an impostor policeman for two years and in the past year helped police recover more than 40 stolen and hijacked cars.
* In May the media reported on a Phoenix resident who helped police arrest three men – one was a police officer and the other two posed as SAPS officers. They allegedly stole R400 and R1 000 worth of cigarettes, and according to police, are believed to be linked to several robberies in Phoenix.