Public order policing units form just one link in the chain that secures safety and security and are only the last resort when things get out of hand, an expert says.
Piet Biesheuvel, a consultant specialising in governance, security and justice presented at defenceWeb’s public order policing conference today. He emphasises the importance of putting public order policing in context, saying that public order policing (POP) training or policing cannot be effectively carried out on their own.
POP is a final solution and only treats the symptom, not the cause. “Riot kit is the last resort,” Biesheuvel says. It is for this reason that other organisations need to get involved in the process, from community elders to politicians and ordinary police officers. Biesheuvel believes that a partnership approach is needed. “There are many stages before a riot,” he says.
In South Africa, for instance, in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, protest/march organisers are required to liaise with police and jointly plan their activity in order for it to be declared legal, says Brigadier Bert van der Walt, South African Police Service Legal Advisor. This is a good opportunity to arrange a peaceful march and ensure the protest organisers cooperate and work with police to keep things peaceful.
After the riot or protest, Biesheuvel says it is necessary to insert ordinary police to ‘calm things down’ after the ‘hard nosed’ riot police have done their job. “Public order policing units need to speak to the community,” he says.
For public order policing units to do their jobs effeictively, adequate training is needed. “Training is the most important thing,” noted Brigadier ‘Happy’ Schutte, operational head of the Crime Combating Units Gauteng. He said there is not enough investment in training and this will “come back and bite”.
Biesheuvel gives the example of training uniformed police, saying that even though they may be adequately trained, if other links in the chain are untrained it is all for nought. For instance, if the forensic, judicial and other departments are not adequately trained, the efforts taken by the uniformed police will count for little.
Biesheuvel says that specialist training is needed and the lack of human resources needs to be addressed and appropriate systems put in place for public order policing to be effective. Training also needs to be reinforced. “After training, what has been learnt needs to be reinforced and ongoing training is needed. Training without anything after is wasteful.”
Also of utmost importance is the need to have a public order policing model in place. This will facilitate training and organisation. POP units should be subservient to the policy model. There are many different models, hopefully all of which have been hopefully developed through consultation with community members and policy makers, Biesheuvel says.
“Strategy and policy are key components of good policing but worthless if not implemented effectively,” Bilkis Omar, Research Consultant: Policing, Crime & Security at African Research Insight told defenceWeb. “The SAPS has some of the best policies but the weakness lies in non implementation of the policies and poor management.” Without policy and strategy, public order police do not know what they are tasked with doing.
A further factor that is necessary when dealing with public order protests is oversight and accountability, Biesheuvel notes. All levels need to get involved, including the state, the community and the police. Furthermore, there needs to be internal accountability within the police.