Deon de Lange

Political Bureau

ONE hundred and fifty police officers – including three generals – are currently suspended, awaiting the outcome of internal disciplinary proceedings for alleged crimes ranging from rape, corruption and theft to armed robbery, kidnapping and murder.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa revealed these figures on Wednesday in response to a written parliamentary question from DA police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard.

In terms of the Disciplinary Code and Procedure for the public service, “prompt investigations must be conducted” and disciplinary hearings held “within 60 days” from the date of suspension. However, Mthethwa’s figures show that officers suspended on full pay spend, on average, 258 days at home.

For those suspended without pay, the average period on suspension drops to 57 days, lending credence to repeated claims by government departments that suspended members are often to blame for delays in finalising disciplinary cases.

The police spent about R8 million on salaries for suspended members last year. And according to the most recent Public Service Commission investigation into suspensions, conducted during the 2009/10 financial year, taxpayers forked out at least R45m for the salaries of suspended officials across the civil service that year. But the report also warned the figure “could potentially be much higher” since many departments did not provide the requested information.

Kohler Barnard has questioned the latest figures, noting that the number of suspensions in the police had registered a “massive decline” from 869 last year and 771 in the 2009/10 financial year. She said the figure of 150 “should be seen as a good sign”, but that the decrease from previous years was “highly suspicious”.

However, police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi pointed out yesterday that these figures reflect only the first four months of the current financial year.

“Let’s hope the figure stays at 150,” he quipped.

Kohler Barnard also complained that there appeared to be a “parallel legal system” in the police that saw officers getting off lightly for serious offences.

This just days after the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) revealed that, in many cases, alleged offences committed by members of the SAPS were simply not reported to the directorate, as required by law.

A recent probe by the IPID found at least 49 such cases so far this year for alleged offences ranging from torture and assault (28), to discharging of an official firearm (7), deaths in police custody (6) and deaths as a result of police action (5).

“The minister needs to ensure that SAPS members who are suspected of criminal offences are reported timeously and that their disciplinary hearings are dealt with speedily. We cannot have criminals acting as crime fighters,” Kohler Barnard said.