There is a major lack of qualified personnel and no training available for public order police in South Africa, says Brigadier (retd) ‘Happy’ Schutte, former operational head of the Crime Combating Units Gauteng. He was speaking at defenceWeb’s Public Order Policing conference today.
It is peoples’ democratic right to stage a public protest or demonstration. However, the constitution only allows for legal protests if they have been organised beforehand and approved by the relevant authorities. It is the duty of public order police units to police all peaceful and violent events.
However, the police can only do so with the right training and equipment. Schutte says there is a major lack of qualified personnel. In the French model of crowd control that South Africa is using at present, one needs a platoon (36 people) to be effective. “Currently it is impossible to do that because there is not enough members available,” Schutte says. Because of this, personnel often act on their own, which causes problems.
“According to me, there is no training for public order police,” Schutte says, noting that training for operational commanders has stopped. “The problem is still there is no formal training courses…they will call the trainer and train the trainer. We must have formal training programmes so that we can send somebody to the units.”
Experienced trainers are being taken away from public order policing duties, Schutte says, to the detriment of public order units. “Trainers are not available because they are assisting elsewhere.” He notes that training must occur regularly and in service, “otherwise we will not have trained public order police in the units.”
Before the Soccer World Cup last year, personnel received three weeks of training in the French model of crowd control. “We are now looking at how many members have not been trained in the French model and we’re sending them for the three week course,” Schutte says.
He notes that every policeman should be trained to respect protestors’ rights. “I think there is a problem in the training of human rights…it must be ongoing, especially with public order police.”
At the moment, 80% of personnel tasked with public order policing are too old, Schutte avows. What is needed is a recruitment policy that gets young members straight out of the police colleges. The right recruits are people with a passion for working with the community, according to Schutte.
Apart from lack of training and personnel, Schutte says a lack of equipment is also a problem. He says there are only eight water cannons in the country and only two in the Johannesburg/Pretoria area. Schutte points out that using equipment like water cannons is only a last resort and that the first step is to negotiate with demonstration leaders.
For illegal protests, such as most service delivery protests, it is often difficult to get hold of the leadership because there are many different groups running around. “There’s not one leader -there’s different groups operating in different areas…it’s difficult to speak to the right leader.” Such situations inevitably lead to violence, Schutte says.
“When it comes to service delivery marches normally there is a problem because we are doing the work of the other departments because your service delivery march is about water, electricity, housing, roads and all that. The police are not responsible,” Schutte adds.
When things get violent, Schutte says that it is relatively easy to disperse people using water cannon, rubber bullets and teargas, but it’s almost impossible to arrest 5 000 people and dispersing people into small groups is problematic because protestors spread to a larger area. Schutte says that rather than dispersing crowds, police should rather manage the gathering and police the march.
Schutte says that the crime combating units should have crowd management as their primary task and crime combating as their secondary task – at the moment it is the inverse. He also calls for more officers so that a proper command and control structure is in place. “If there is no officer you cannot have command and control because one warrant officer doesn’t want to take command of another.”
Schutte told delegates that the only way the police will get public order right is by the right recruitment and training. “I must emphasis if we don’t start with the training of operational commanders…we are going to have a problem with public order police.” This is especially important considering Schutte believes that South Africa will see Arab Spring type protests within three years.