South Africans need to revive the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood as the country comes together to put an end to police killings, says Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa. Speaking at a Summit on Police Killings in KwaZulu-Natal, Mthethwa said the killing of even one police officer was cause for concern.
Since the beginning of the year, 15 police officers have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal, BusNews reports. “This has reached proportional and unacceptable levels. In fact, even if one police officer has been killed, we would still be increasingly worried,” the minister said.
Noting that the majority of South Africans were determined to help police eradicate crime, Mthethwa said: “Now is the time to revive this spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in stopping these killings.” Partnerships between civil society, government and communities were needed to counter criminal elements, the minister stressed.
Police training methods and the severity of sentences handed down to cop killers would also need to be explored as the relevant parties sought ways to eradicate the killings, he said. The root causes of the problem had to be identified and addressed. “It will definitely serve no purpose in dealing with the symptoms of the problem and ignore the root cause, and come back tomorrow to complain about the same problem.
“We must know that this is what we are doing so that whatever plans we are coming up with, we know and check and say that our approach is orderly or not, or we need to make changes.” He said the “mauling” of police officers were cowardice acts by criminals who were feeling the pinch as police closed in on them. He noted that police were in the process of implementing a 10-Point Plan to seek, from all sectors of society, solutions to put an end to police killings.
The plan would address the challenges, while at the same time put an immediate end to the killings, the minister added. “One cop killing is one too many. Criminal acts, including killing of police officers, deny and take away the most elementary human rights from law-abiding citizens,” Mthethwa said. He said the rights of law abiding citizens should not be superseded by the rights of criminals, noting that there had been calls for authorities to intensify the war against police killings by revisiting the type of punishment given to those responsible for killings.
“The recent attacks and killings of our police officers is a sad reminder to all of us to intensify our resolve in fighting crime with even more vigour. We dare not fail,” he said.
But a Carte Blanche/Daily Maverick probe has found the number of officers killed has decreased dramatically since 1994. “[Police killings are] a declining trend, both in terms of total numbers of police officials being killed and… as a proportion of police per hundred thousand in the organisation,” Andrew Faull, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, told Carte Blanche. “We are seeing a sudden spike in media attention, we are seeing a sudden spike in police-management attention, but we are not seeing a spike in the total number of figures,” Faull said.
In 1994, 265 police officers were killed, according to the South African Institute for Race Relations figures. In 2000, this number dropped to 178, and in 2010 it had fallen to 93, according to police statistics. That’s still 93 dead policemen too many, but it is nonetheless an improvement. “Some cynics might argue that the shift of attention to the killing of police officials is a strategy of police to deflect attention away from the significant media attention to the abuse of force,” Faull told Carte Blanche. “There is no evidence of that, but it is a question that will remain in the air.” With the brutal killing of Andries Tatane at the hands of police in April still fresh in the public’s mind, this is a pertinent point. “I think that there is a problem with police violence in South Africa, of excessive force in the sense of disregarding the law and police brutality, and that people in the criminal world are aware of that,” David Bruce from the centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation told Carte Blanche. “I think it is likely to be a factor feeding into the levels of violence which police are facing.”
In response to the danger facing his officers, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced a 10-point plan to combat police killings in late July. The 10 steps are a mixture of symbolic gestures attempting to boost morale, some management-style speak about making the issue a priority and engaging role-players and actual practical steps such as increasing training. In brief, the ten steps are:
* the “adopt-a-cop” awareness campaign;
* establishing a multidisciplinary committee to co-ordinate responses to police killings;
* reviewing the year 2000 ministerial task team’s report into police safety;
* making police killings a priority for the Justice, Crime-Prevention and Security department cluster, as well as Cabinet;
* providing psychological and human-resources support for families of killed officers;
* improve training;
* strengthen research partnerships;
* hold provincial summits to engage the various role-players;
* reviewing the SAPS annual commemoration of fallen heroes; and
* flying the national flag half-mast at police stations to mourn killed officers.
While the focus of the 10-point plan is primarily on police safety, cognisance also needs to be taken of the police force’s interaction with the community. Talking about the plan’s commitment to a community-policing strategy, Bruce said: “The 10-point plan misunderstands how to do that because it isn’t about a PR exercise primarily, it is about how does police conduct themselves and engage with members of the community. So it is about these professionalism and respectfulness and a key issue is actually how police use force.”
Earlier this month, Mthethwa, replying to a written question from DA MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard in Parliament, said that 768 criminal cases had been filed against police officers since January 2009. Among these were 516 charges of assault, 50 of murder, 94 of rape, seven of attempted rape and 71 of sexual assault. Mthethwa was quoted in a statement as saying: “These statistics are appalling and disgusting to say the least. We do not think the figures are new, but what is new is our concerted effort in rooting out such criminality”.
Rooting out criminality and brutality among the police would be a good start in mending relations between the force and communities, the Daily Maverick opined. “South Africa is a society that is used to shades of grey, but one area where we could do with some clarity is in firmly separating the cops from the robbers.”