4.6% of police workforce test positive
Johannesburg – More than 9 000 police officers and civilian employees - 4.6% of the total SAPS workforce - have contracted Covid-19.
“Of this 5 785 are still active cases and 3 132 have fully recovered, but sadly we have lost 83 of our members to this virus,” said national SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo.
“These numbers include both police officers and civilian employees.”
Many police stations across the country have had to close temporarily to be decontaminated after officers were infected.
The affected officers have been temporarily rehoused in alternative venues such as community centres, halls, caravans and even at a Free State station commander’s house in Rosendal.
Naidoo did not provide statistics for the number of police stations that have had to close due to confirmed cases, but insisted the services that the police provided to the public would remain operational.
According to the SAPS Twitter account, from Monday until Wednesday afternoon, the Mangaung, Rosendal, Boithuso, Viljoenskroon, Heidedal, Navalsig and Seloshesha police stations in the Free State had to close down temporarily and relocate due to Covid-19 infections.
This was also the case at the Hartebeeskop, Zamdela, Koster Police Station and Brits in the North West, the Lydenburg, Kwaggafontein, Volksrust, Nelspruit, Vosman, Komatipoort Police Station in Mpumalanga as well as the Groblersdal, Thabazimbi and Tuinplaas Police Station in Limpopo.
In Gauteng, the Brackendowns, Pretoria central Rabie Ridge and Boksburg police stations have had to shut down with the Tembisa, Sandton, Norwood, Olifantsfontein, Dunnottar and Hercules stations reopening between Monday and Wednesday.
To curb infections, the Gauteng Traffic Police this week carried out a large scale Covid-19 screening and testing programme for all its members and their immediate families at the FNB stadium. This initiative involved about 700 Gauteng officers.
“The purpose of the testing programme is to pro-actively detect and prevent the spread of the virus among the members to ensure uninterrupted service delivery within the traffic police service,” a spokesperson said.
The closure of police stations in Gauteng does not surprise DA provincial spokesperson for community safety, John Moodey.
“It was expected that those on the frontline would be infected as they are more exposed,” he said.
“Once an officer tests positive, the police station they are based at will be immediately evacuated for decontamination.
“All members are screened and those who may have come in contact with the infected members are required to self-isolate for at least two weeks while they undergo testing.”
In the interim, the affected premises is decontaminated and unaffected members are required to return to work between 12 - 24 hours later. A temporary facility is set up for a client service centre to continue operations.
Moodey believes the SAPS has been functioning as well as it could. “I haven’t found it resulting in the services suffering.”
But Gareth Newham, the head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies, believes the infections and station closures would have had an effect on their ability to effectively fight crime.
“Any sudden reduction of police numbers and the closures of police stations will disrupt the routine policing taking place in the affected precinct and it may mean that police management at those stations have to adjust their plans.”
He said this could mean the police might only be able to focus on high priority and serious crimes until routine policing could resume.
Moodey said there were no statistics to suggest that the public were reporting fewer incidences of crime because of the fear of contracting the virus at police stations and interacting with police officers on the front line.
But Newham did not rule it out. “It is possible that some people may be hesitant to report crime for that reason.
“There are also stations where police officers have been hesitant to allow the public to report crimes that are not considered very serious.
“This is partly because some police officers are also concerned with contracting the virus from people coming into the station.”