The dilemma of the SA police: the South African police services (SAPS) are between a proverbial rock and a hard place. Citizen groups and experts accuse them of brutality while the force's leadership pleads self-defence against daring criminal elements that keep gunning down officers. Innocent Madawo reports.

Author:Madawo, Innocent
Position:South Africa

FACED WITH INCREASING CASES of deaths and assaults in police custody, alongside an equally rising number of police killings, all concerned sectors of South African society have been calling for a solution to what police commissioner, Bheki Cele, has called a "national crisis".

But as if to dramatise the complexity of the crisis, there seems to be no consensus on what exactly constitutes a solution to a policing situation where thousands of criminal complaints are laid against the police while over a hundred officers are killed every year.

Citizen groups and criminologists are calling for human rights training and respect for law and order to stem the ineptitude, corruption and brutality among the SAPS while the police leadership seeks an understanding of the harsh environment their officers operate in.

As many as 4,500 complaints were laid against the police in the 2009/10 financial year, of which 920 (40%) were for assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, 422 (22%) for common assault, and 325 (17%) for attempted murder.

A total of 568 cases were deaths in police custody, of which 22% occurred during the commission of crimes, 4% during escapes, 10% during investigations, 46% during arrests, and 2% involved innocent bystanders.

On the other hand, 36 police officers were killed in the first five months of 2011 and 107 were killed last year, all in the line of duty. It is a trend that has been established for years.

The lack of cohesion between the two sides--who held separate review conferences in the last week of May--is symptomatic of a two-pronged problem whose roots stem from the apartheid legacy of using violence to control political dissent, which spawned a long history of violent crimes.

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) organised a conference on police brutality which was boycotted by SAPS' superiors. Criminologists who attended the conference in Pretoria blamed the brutality on negligent management, poor training, criminal tendencies among some officers, and disregard for disciplinary procedures.

David Bruce of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation incurred the ire of the police leadership when he accused them of authorising violent means, such as extra-judicial executions, to deal with crime.

"The police management believe that excessive force is necessary," said Bruce, alluding to Cele's now infamous order for threatened officers to "shoot to kill". Police bosses said such "deliberate"...

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