Police shot dead 420 people – an average of more than one person every day – during the year to March 2008.
They include 191 suspects shot during arrest, 83 shot while allegedly committing a crime, 43 during investigations, 34 shot while escaping and six shot due to negligence with guns. Also included are three innocent bystanders, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) says.
The Star newspaper reports the figure further includes 60 people shot in domestic violence incidents or by off-duty policemen.
“These are the most recent statistics available from the ICD, which investigates deaths in police custody and at police hands,” the paper reports this morning.
The ICD’s Grace Langa said they had made 193 recommendations of prosecution in connection with the shootings.
The 2007 ICD report on killings by police highlighted the “excessive use of force” as a factor and recommended more training.
The report comes as new police chief Bheki Cele calls for a relaxation in the law, specifically section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, so that police will have more latitude in using their firearms.
The Cape Times reports the proposed legal changes come as the police face R5.79 billion in civil claims, R359 million of which relates to “shooting incidents”. The police`s 2007/08 annual report shows I that year alone shooting incident claims against the police totalled R108 million.
Last month Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa told Parliament he wanted the law changed. He added that “trigger-happy members must not think this is a licence to kill. It is a measure aimed specifically at dealing with serious violent crime and dangerous criminals.”
Mthetwa says the problem with the existing law is that it prevents police from shooting fleeing suspects, and that if the suspect then turned around and shot a policeman it was too late.
This month newly appointed National Commissioner Bheki Cele said police were “handcuffed” by Section 49 and forced to think twice before shooting, even when faced with armed bank robbers.
Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Khabisi Mosunkutu called for police to shoot to kill robbers who threaten them. “(Officers) must make sure they do not allow the criminals a split second to aim their weapons… rather (officers) must make sure they do not miss,” Mosunkutu said.
The same day Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said: “It is time we kill the bastards or they will kill us.”
But Professor Anthony Minnaar, of Unisa’s criminology and security sciences department told the
Minnaar said the law was drafted after studying similar laws in
He said recent research showed police at all levels didn’t understand or weren’t properly trained in this law.
One example of where police continually contravened Section 49 was during car chases, where criminals were shot at. “If a suspect is fleeing you can’t shoot at him,” he said.
The law allows police some leeway. While a criminal can’t be shot in the back, a review process can justify a shooting, if for example the suspect was firing while he was fleeing. “Every incident is meant to be considered on merit,” Minnaar says.
The police is due to release its next annual report next month. As usual this will include crime statistics.