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Monday, December 4, 2023

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Blue light bullies ruling by fear and mistrust is a recipe for disaster - police expert

Members of the SAPS VIP Protection Unit were recorded in a video assaulting occupants of another vehicle in Joburg. Photo: Screengrab

Members of the SAPS VIP Protection Unit were recorded in a video assaulting occupants of another vehicle in Joburg. Photo: Screengrab

Published Jul 4, 2023


The behaviour of Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s VIP protectors, who were seen in a video viciously attacking three men, was yet another indication of how ruling by fear and mistrust was a recipe for disaster for the public and the police service itself.

A group of about six heavily armed VIP protectors were seen assaulting and kicking in the head, three men, who were travelling in a blue VW Polo in a suspected road rage incident on the N1 highway.

The officers were travelling in two police-owned BMW X5s. They viciously attacked the three men who were being beaten while laying on the ground.

An internal investigation is under way and police management has condemned the behaviour of the members.

The police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), has confirmed that the victims were military trainees, and they are making efforts to obtain their statements before investigating possible assault charges against the VIP protection unit officers concerned.

IOL has spoken to a policing expert who says the latest incident was an indication that it was important to professionalise the police service, as the National Development Plan (NDP) envisages.

Policing expert Professor Jean Steyn, who is the head of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Zululand, said the behaviour of the police officers was contributing to the worsening levels of trust the public had in the police as an institution.

“The matter of trust and the public is worsening by the day,” he said.

“The SAPS is essential for democracy to thrive. For the community to work with the police, the members of the community need to trust the police, and even in the most difficult circumstances, police officers should use non-violent methods to resolve conflict.

“Using violence against members of the public is a recipe for disaster, there is no need to kick a human being on the ground, even if they have committed a heinous crime,” said Steyn.

The NDP, which aims to build safer communities by 2030, envisages that all South Africans should feel safe and have no fear of crime. It envisages that women, children, and those from vulnerable groups should feel protected and have confidence in the criminal justice system to apprehend and prosecute criminals.

It also envisages that the SAPS and the various metro police units around the country should be professional institutions staffed by skilled, disciplined, ethical individuals who value their work and serve the community.

The NDP aims to make the SAPS a professional service, with promotion incentives for disciplined members and recruitment should be confined to skilled and competent individuals.

The NDP also aims to demilitarise the police service with the intent of moving away from the institution’s history of brutality.

“The decision to demilitarise the police force, moving away from its history of brutality, was a key goal of transformation after 1994. The re-militarisation of the police in recent years has not garnered greater respect for the police or higher conviction rates.

“If anything, it has contributed to violence. The police should be demilitarised and managed towards a professional civilian service,” the NDP says on policing.

Professor Steyn concurred with the NDP, saying that it was important for members of the police to be calm and humble, as violence was only contributing to the public not recognising the police as an institution.

“There is lots of work to be done on the professionalising of the police…and we can only hope the powers that be and those associated with the SAPS, move along with that to get the trust and the legitimacy back of the police service.

“I am shocked and saddened about this behaviour from the police because the truth is that the majority of the police are doing good work for the community,” said Steyn.

Steyn said with the worsening crime rate and the continued public pressure on police, officers saw the public as a threat, which could only lead to heightened violence between the public and the police.

He said to be a police officer was naturally a pressure-filled vocation, and the more the police were criticised in the public, it would lead to police officers building walls around them, which could lead to more violence.

“When the public says they cannot trust the police, there is an ugly divorce where the children suffer, and in this instance, the children are the people of South Africa,” he said.