Thousands of police officers on parade at the Tshwane Police Academy. Picture: Sakhile Ndlazi

South Africans are under siege from criminals. Violent crime, which had been steadily decreasing since the mid-1990s, is trending upwards once again, while public trust in the police and the broad criminal justice system is falling. 

What is even more concerning is that all too often police themselves are perpetrating crimes. A new report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) – entitled Broken Blue Line 3 –looks at the involvement of police officers in serious and violent crime, and the results are frightening.

This report, the third in the IRR’s Broken Blue Line advocacy project, seeks to draw attention to criminality within the police, but also to generate support for policy solutions.

The Broken Blue Line 3 report, released today, comes to the same conclusions as our previous two reports (in 2011 and 2015) – that criminality in the police is widespread and only a small proportion of those committing crimes in the police are found guilty. Indeed, crooked cops and corruption within the police were identified as the single most serious threat to South Africa’s national security by Robert McBride, the head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

The disarray in the police is reflected in how crime rates have increased over the past five years. Although crime in South Africa is still lower than it was in the 1990s, the crime trends (including violent crime) are now on the increase.

In the five years to 2017/2018, the aggravated robbery rate increased from 223 incidents per 100 000 people to 244. Car hijackings also saw a fairly large increase over that period, going from 21 incidents per 100 000 people in 2013/14 to nearly 30 hijackings for every 100 000 people five years later. Also concerning is the increase in the murder rate. In 2013/14, about 31 people were killed for every 100 000. This rate had increased to nearly 36 by 2017/18.

Our latest Broken Blue Line report also finds general confidence in the police dropping. According to the Victims of Crime Survey (VOCS) released by Statistics South Africa, in 2013/14, for example, nearly 60% of South African households expressed satisfaction with the service they received from the police. But this had decreased to less than 55% half a decade later, with the five-year trend again being downward.

As in our previous Broken Blue Line reports, we have put forward a number of suggestions to improve the police service, as well as contribute to the broader fight against crime.

In our last report, we provided six recommendations. These were: 
* Re-instil respect for the chain of command; 
* Create a university-educated officer corps;
* Better equip IPID;
* Establish a new investigative agency within the Department of Justice;
* Decentralise decision making in station leadership; and 
* Depoliticise the appointment process.

We believe that the police should take these proposals seriously, as they could go some way to repairing the Blue Line, which is so vital in any society.

Our third Broken Blue Line recommends three more interventions in addition to the earlier ones.

First, we propose that any security upgrades to one’s home, or any expenses that are incurred regarding security, be tax deductible. Many South Africans already spend vast amounts on security for their homes to protect themselves and their families and they should be allowed to claim that as an expense, to offset against their taxes. (It is estimated that South Africans spend more on security than the entire police budget.) This could include money spent on security upgrades to homes, as well as monthly fees paid to security companies. The taxes that ordinary South Africans pay already fund the police who have, in many instances, shown themselves to be incapable of protecting them. 

Second, we propose that communities be allowed to elect their station commanders at the time of local government elections, or, at the very least, that Community Police Forums have greatly expanded powers to appoint station commanders. That way, the head of your local police station will be directly accountable to your community. If the local police perform poorly, are corrupt, or – worse yet – perpetrate serious and violent crimes, it will be a simple matter for the community to recall the station commander and appoint another. Nor will station commanders necessarily have to be serving police officers. Any sufficiently experienced person with the qualifications to run an organisation could be elected, allowing the community a wide pool of candidates to select from. 

Third, we propose the development of very well-organised and well-resourced Neighbourhood Watch Schemes that are integrated with private security providers, allowing your community to in effect take control of its own security. Later, such structures can be integrated with the police. For the time being, however, such structures offer the best solution to South Africa’s plague of serious and violent crime.

South Africa was winning the war on crime before and it can do so again. It will need the concerted effort of ordinary citizens, working with a committed police service to do this, but the IRR believes it is possible. Implementing our proposals will strengthen the police, as well as making ordinary people safer. 

* Marius Roodt is head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes economic and political freedom. If you agree with what you have just read SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).   

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.