Police Minister Bheki Cele painted a bleak picture of action taken against bad police officers. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)
Police Minister Bheki Cele painted a bleak picture of action taken against bad police officers. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)

Cele in the firing line for crime in SAPS ranks

By Manyane Manyane Time of article published Sep 20, 2021

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A REPORT released by Police Minister Bheki Cele, indicating that only 50 out of more than 10 000 officers who faced disciplinary action for violent misconduct had been suspended since 2012, shows that there is lack of accountability in his department.

Police Minister Bheki Cele painted a bleak picture of action taken against bad police officers. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)
Systems for holding police officers accountable and removing them from the service are often found wanting. Picture: Phill Magakoe

This is the view of the DA, which asked Cele to provide details on the number of cases and suspensions pending an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) from the 2012/13 financial year until 2020/21.

The violent misconduct acts include death as a result of police action, rape by a police officer and torture or assault.

Cele last week revealed that more than 10 086 officers have faced disciplinary action after being charged with misconduct since 2012/13.

DA MP Andrew Whitfiled quizzed Cele on the number of SAPS members who were accused of violent misconduct in each province.

“A shocking lack of consequence management inside the SAPS. The figures are alarming but not surprising given the fact that SAPS has a reputation of protecting their own.

“Police conduct is a major problem and we cannot hope that we overhaul SAPS without weeding out the rotten apples,” said Whitfield.

The Eastern Cape led with the highest number (2 175) of disciplinary cases in this period. The Western Cape came second with 2 057 cases, followed by Free State with 1 287.

Kwazulu-Natal and Limpopo had the lowest cases, at 457 and 388, respectively.

However, SAPS national spokesperson Athlenda Mathe on Friday painted a different picture of the figures presented by Cele.

She said statistics revealed that 3 617 officers were dismissed for various acts of misconduct between 2012 and 2021.

“They were all charged internally; 1 925 were suspended and 104 were given warnings,“ Mathe said.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said the figures were concerning.

"As a union, we advocate for selflessness and dedication to being servants of the South African populace, and are against any actions that would seek to derail the objective of building a reliable and trusted police service within our communities. That being said, we still maintain that a majority of our police officers remain committed to serving the country with dignity and integrity.

"We are concerned as a union when such reports are made because whether they are allegations or factual, they do make an impact on the manner in which the police are perceived," said Mamabolo

Meanwhile, Ipid spokesperson Grace Langa said although the picture was not looking good, they had no control over what happens in internal disciplinary actions of the SAPS.

“What transpired leading to the police not being charged is not known to us especially because we are not even called to testify on our recommendations during disciplinary hearings.

“Discipline is a management function within the police and legislation does not give us the right to enforce and demand accountability from the disciplinary tribunal after internal disciplinary actions,” she said.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) head of Justice and Violence Prevention Programme, Gareth Newham holds a different view on the statistics.

“I think that this report misses some important information. It is not that over 10 000 police officials have faced disciplinary action after having been charged with serious violent crimes.

“It is the number of officers recommended for SAPS disciplinary action following IPID investigations. However, in reality, very few police officials actually face disciplinary hearings and a small fraction get dismissed,” said Newham.

He said between 2021 and 2020, Ipid received 47 984 complaints against police officials, and most of them accused of unlawful use of force. Of these, 7 626 were referred to the SAPS for disciplinary action.

“Only 1 553 (3%) cases resulted in disciplinary convictions with a total of 194 cases (0.4%) resulting in dismissals. This means that the systems for holding brutal and corrupt police officials accountable and removing them from the SAPS are largely dysfunctional.

“The SAPS internal discipline system is operating at less than a third of the capacity it was able to operate in in 2012.

“As a result, there are too many police officers acting in ways that undermine public confidence in the SAPS which in turn has contributed to a substantial deterioration in public safety. Between 2012 and 2020, murders increased by 37% and armed robberies by 43%.

“In order to assist honest, hard-working police officers achieve success, it is necessary to identify and remove those officers whose conduct conflicts with the SAPS Code of Ethics and Conduct. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for far too long,” added Newham.

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Sunday Independent

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