Police Minister Nathi Nhleko

Cape Town -

Recently appointed Police Minister Nathi Nhleko played a public relations ace this week when he announced the SAPS would be demilitarised but he also revealed shocking details of the challenges he faces in turning the image of the police around.

On Friday, Nhleko said in a written reply to a parliamentary question the majority of the 516 officers found guilty over the past three years of helping detainees to escape had themselves escaped with a mere slap on the wrist.

A total of 907 officers were charged with the offence, but 288 were found not guilty, while 98 cases were withdrawn and 42 were pending.

Of the 516 guilty officers, 231 were simply fined, 10 received “counselling”, 93 a written warning, 70 a final written warning and 111 a suspended dismissal.

Just 40 were dismissed.

The Western Cape had the highest number of cases - with 281 - followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 145 and Gauteng with 128.

Earlier in the week, Nhleko admitted in another written reply the boards of fitness instituted by national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega into 1 448 officers with convictions for crimes ranging from murder to rape and theft had been suspended after the Labour Court found last month they were unlawful and without legal force.

As a result, not one of these officers had been dismissed, Nhleko said.

His spokesman, Musa Zondi, said on Friday it was too soon to say what the next move would be as the minister had not had a chance to engage police management on the issue.

In another reply, Nhleko said he was unable to provide figures for the number of police found guilty of crimes over the past two years because of the length of court processes.

He asked for more time to provide “quality and correct information”.

DA spokeswoman on police Dianne Kohler Barnard said there was “clearly a complete lack of accountability in our police service for crimes committed by policemen and women”.

“It is indeed outrageous that aiding escapees, a crime that undermines our criminal justice system in the most fundamental way, has led to virtually no consequences for those involved.”

She would ask for an investigation by Parliament’s portfolio committee on police, Kohler Barnard said.

In his budget vote speech earlier this week, Nhleko announced more rigorous screening of new recruits, including testing of their suitability before they started formal training, grooming camps for screening purposes, vetting, written assessments, physical fitness and “other diagnostic tests on behaviour, patriotism and culture”.

Speaking about efforts to boost public order policing in the face of increasing incidents of violent protest, Nhleko said these were “in line with the national vision of demilitarising the police services, as well as putting in place a civilian approach to public order policing with a view to reduce the levels of militaristic or perceived militaristic approach”.

This comes after renewed scrutiny and criticism of the police approach to crowd management in the wake of the Marikana massacre and other cases of police brutality.

- Saturday Argus