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Minister of police affirms importance of public order policing policy
Written by Guy Martin, 4 October 2011

Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa outlined the importance of the police ministry’s new policy on public order policing at defenceWeb’s public order policing conference today, reaffirming the need to establish dedicated public order policing units.

“The policy is there; the need is there,” Mthethwa said. “We must re-establish and maintain POP units which have the necessary capacity, command and control structures to effectively carry out public order policing.”

“To protest is a constitutional right,” the minister said, adding that people want their property protected but at the same time must enjoy their democratic right to express their views and grievances.

“We need to recognise the dynamics of public order policing policy in South Africa post 1994 have undergone a shift. Prior to 1994 the police, supported by the military were tasked to suppress and use force to control unrest flowing from political opposition,” Mthethwa said. With transformation into democracy, the police have moved to a more community based approach.

In 1996, public order policing units were established but restructured through the years. “It could be argued that their restructuring resulted in the POP units no longer existing as specialised public order policing units,” the minister said. “What we’ve done recently is re-establish what is supposed to be here with us which is public order policing policy.”

“In August this year, we looked into our public order policing policy because we felt it was important to determine if our policy conformed with the constitutional and legal imperatives,” Mthethwa told delegates at the conference.

The minister said that the new policy is consistent with constitutionally accorded rights for all individuals and takes an approach that aims to impact positively on the community and does not generate the violence it seeks to control in public protests.

At the end of August Mthethwa approved the Ministry of Police’s new policy on public order policing. This calls for the establishment of public order policing units with the South African Police Service, the better training of personnel, adequate intelligence to predict riots, the establishment of contingency plans and the re-equipment of police forces.

Mthethwa said that it is also necessary to ensure training is improved, especially regarding the use of force. In the South African context he said it was important to respect human rights. The minister further emphasised the importance of having a strong line of command and control, negotiation skills and the ability of public order policing units to undertake crime prevention activities when not tasked with POP activities.

Mthethwa said that the SAPS has been engaging with other countries around the world to establish best practices in the field of public order policing. “Because of the unique situation in South Africa...training for us is critical because…what we want to see at the end of the day is professionalism within the police…Who you recruit into the police will determine the type of service or force you have.”

Mthethwa emphasised the importance of trained personnel to read situations and utilise the necessary amount of force. “Public order policing is a specialised policy. It requires specific training…at the end of the day you should be able to have a police officer who is able to deal with the situation and not cause tension and violence because the primary aim is to ensure such situations don’t occur.”

“Some protests are so peaceful that there is no need for police to do anything except marshal people that are there,” he said. “People are an important aspect of policy…people in some instances protest without violence and police can appreciate that.”

“Policing in general has to be both nasty and nice. If you have public protests and these public protests are conducted peacefully we expect utmost sensitivity from the police to be nice to those they are policing but if protestors are violent, depending on the level of violence also, you will want police to be tough enough. If they are not tough enough and let things go, citizens’ rights will be violated…chaos will reign.”

In order to ensure an adequate level of training, the SAPS has introduced a refresher training course. “In the final analysis we need a professional police service…that will help us going forward.”

“We want to say that we are under no illusion that there are quick fixes to policing challenges in South Africa,” Mthethwa said.” We do believe that over the last two years we have begun to put in place processes that are not only yielding some successes, but will also become the building blocks for the police service we envisage.”

“The 2010/2011 financial year crime statistics confirm that the tide against crime is turning and that police, joined by society are gaining an upper hand against vicious criminals. The statistics, however, should serve as a motivating factor and encouragement in all our efforts.”

Related stories
 
> Remarks by the Minister of Police, E.N. Mthethwa, MP at the defenceWeb Public Order Policing Conference
> Presentation POP conference: New Age Public Order Policing
> Public order policing requires adequate training, more personnel – expert
> Balancing the right to safety and security and the right to demonstrate

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