Cop killing a national theat: Mthethwa

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The killing by criminals of police officers is a direct threat to the country’s hard-won constitutional democracy, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa says. Speaking at a summit against police killings in Boksburg, Mthethwa called on society to help the police end the killings, which he described as a threat that should not be taken lightly.

The summit was an affirmation of the country’s stance against any “mauling” of law enforcement agencies,” the state BuaNews agency reports. At least 48 police officers have been killed nationally since the beginning of the year, with Gauteng being the worst affected province, followed by KwaZulu-Natal. “We are saying enough now! One police life lost is one too many. We need to do something about it, collectively and as individuals. As the first step, as experts gathered at this summit, we shall be drawing from your expertise and support in curbing this scourge,” Mthethwa said.

He said since 1999, some of the approaches and initiatives that have been implemented by the South African Police Service, include the establishment of a Multi-Disciplinary Committee to address attacks on police members. The Directorate for Police Safety was also established within the Crime Prevention Division in 2001. It was tasked with identifying and implementing measures to prevent attacks on and the killing of police officials.

On Friday, Mthethwa said high levels of murder of police officials affected the psyche of police. “These deaths lead to uncertainty and feelings of insecurity within the police. In some cases off-duty police officers are known and specifically targeted even when off-duty.” He added that government was committed to fighting crime, not just police killings. Work was also underway to strengthen and where appropriate, formalise relationships with various stakeholders, with a view of attracting the diverse skills which may not necessarily be available within SAPS.

This effort involved partnerships with communities, civil society, business and other government departments. “We are also confronting a broad range of challenges on issues like CPFs, volunteer programmes, alignment of plans and activities. In all these, police should take the lead in keeping with their Constitutional mandate of honest, dedicated, selfless sacrifice and service to society.”

National police commissioner General Bheki Cele in his address said police men and women were not recruited so that they can be murdered by criminals. “We do not recruit men and women to join the South African Police Service (SAPS) so they can be slaughtered,” Cele said. The commissioner said police are faced with having to deal with professional operatives, who plan their operations with military precision. He described these criminals as “not your run-of-the mills thugs, who simply wake up one day and decide they are going out on a score. “You tell me that I should send out my colleagues who are only trained to maintain the peace among ordinary civilians to be slaughtered by these paramilitaries? We won’t do that,” remarked Cele.

He said “extra-special thugs” who have over the years killed police officers deserve the attention of extra special police. “Police are human, we refuse to be dehumanised,” said Cele, adding that members of the SAPS specialised units “did not simply wake up and decide to go into the streets to instigate violence. They only go out on a strictly by invitation only basis.”

The extra mental and physical strain placed on special units as a result of having to protect the public from violence was also noted by Cele, saying that they are monitored for post-traumatic stress disorder during and after their period of service. The commissioner said that in the ideal South Africa, the role of the SAPS would be to prevent crime from taking place as opposed to reacting to criminal incidents.

Cele also expressed concern at the frequency of police funerals. “Hardly a weekend has gone by without us in the SAPS family having to bury one or more casualties. It is painful having to give caps and national flags to widows.” Even though this was happening, police officers continued to do their jobs.

Cele said the men and women in blue are sent to refresher and advanced training at regular intervals, adding that fitness has also been placed under the spotlight, BuaNews reports. The commissioner also spoke out against officers who do not wear their bulletproof vests while on duty.

Secretary of Police Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane said research conducted in 1999 to 2000 showed that the highest number of police officers killed was constables and that in 20 percent of cases, officers were killed while responding to crime calls. Those attending the summit, including research and academic institutions, Community Policing Forums and NGOs, amongst others, are expected to sign a pledge at its closing.