No special code of conduct needed for military in police support ops

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There’s no need for any “code of conduct and operational procedures regulating conduct” of components of the security forces during the State of National Disaster.

In the military it is a function of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) to continuously monitor soldiers’ actions.

Any properly trained group of soldiers must be instructed by their officers on how to behave in executing this role and be monitored and corrected as required by their NCOs,” is the partial response of respected defence analyst Helmoed Heitman to last week’s ruling by Gauteng North High Court judge Hans Fabricius. The ruling followed a case brought by the family of Collins Khosa, an Alexandra resident allegedly tortured and killed by soldiers, police and Johannesburg Metro police during the coronavirus lockdown.

SA Police Service (SAPS) National Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole this week issued a new directive to police apparently in compliance with the ruling.

In reaction to what some media are terming “lockdown brutality” and the court ruling, the new police directive states “there can simply be no justification for torture, ever”.

It cautions against “serious and humiliating rights infringements” arresting and detaining people for lockdown breaches where attendance at courts can be done through summons or other less intrusive means.

At the time of publication, neither the Ministry of Defence nor the Department of Defence (DoD) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had indicated any action on producing a directive for soldiers deployed on Operation Notlela in the light of Judge Fabricius’ ruling.

Heitman is dismissive of a suggestion that a “police support mission training centre” be created similar to SA Army peace mission training centre at the SA Army College in Thaba Tshwane.

“I see no need for a special course, let alone a special training centre. There will always be some bad eggs and there will always be incidents of gross provocation that trigger violent over-reaction by one or a few soldiers. That will happen whether or not they are put through a course of some sort.

“It is the function of section leaders and platoon sergeants to keep their soldiers from slipping out of control,” Heitman said.

He identifies the actual execution of an arrest as a problem area – “especially when the person does not want to be arrested”.

“It is always difficult, even for trained police officers and why we see videos anywhere in the world of ‘police brutality’ when several police officers subdue a person. If you do not mind hurting someone it is fairly easy to subdue and toss them into a car or van; if you do not want to hurt them and they resist, it becomes difficult and even impossible for one officer, hence several.

“I think the additional problem that can creep in here is soldiers are not taught and trained about how to proceed with an arrest in a legally correct manner. No quick course will change that while lengthy training is a pointless exercise for troops not intended to be police officers.



“The solution is to have a police officer with every section and make him responsible for handling infractions, with soldiers there for protection and muscle when required, acting on the request, directive and instruction (not command) of the police officer.”