Notes from Gareth Newham’s presentation: Exploring Police Abuses and Performance in South Africa

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KYLA HERRMANNSEN

The Wits Justice Project are currently attending the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) 4th International Conference: National and International Perspectives on Crime Reduction and Criminal Justice. This morning’s session looked at policing challenges in South Africa, with Mr Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice Division of the ISS talking on the topic of ‘Exploring police abuses and performances in South Africa’. His presentation made use of empirical data which, as the presentation abstract notes, suggests that “the performance of the SAPS in relation to crime combatting has started to deteriorate while concerns with police brutality and corruption have increased.”

Newham noted that there has been a distinct emphasis in recent years on increasing ‘visible policing’. As a result, there has been a 222% increase in the police budget from 2003/2004 to 2013. He noted that this marked increase is far above the yearly inflation rate and is rare world-wide. Newham explained that this concept was a hallmark of the Jackie Selebi era in which it was believed that more police would equal less crime. As a result, the police force has increased in numbers and there are now approximately 160 000 men and women in uniform across South Africa. However, Newham noted that police activities have in no way represented the budgetary increases. He presented a graph which showed that there have been spikes in policing around international events, such as the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Between 2002 and 2012 there was a marked increase in persons and vehicles searched. In fact, over 20 million people were searched last year alone. But, in a study conducted in inner city Johannesburg in 2009, it was revealed that one third of searches involved policemen looking for bribes.

“There is a danger in mass arrests”, said Newham. He noted that since 2008 arrests have increased substantially by 26% while overall crime rates have stabilized. In citing Sherman et al (1997), he warned that while an increase in arrests for petty crimes may decrease crime rates in the short term, it could increase crime long term. “The less respectful police are towards suspects and citizens generally, the less people will comply with the law”, warned Newham. He added, “it’s not what police do, it’s how they do it…style is as important as substance.” He noted the current model sees the police combating crime rather than focusing on preventing it.

Newham concluded in calling for enhanced police integrity. He shared an alarming statistic that only 1% of total cases opened at the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) end in conviction. This means there is a 99% chance police officers under investigation will not be convicted – therefore there is not much of a deterrent. Newham added that between 2001 and 2011 police brutality cases reported to IPID increased by 313%, resulting in an average of 5 cases reported per day. In the 2011/2012 period, SAPS charged 1050 of their own members for corruption related offences.

He noted that there is a problem of police impunity. He revealed that the SAPS performance plan for 2012/2103 does not deal with issues such as brutality, training and poor public perceptions. He praised the National Development Plan and suggested the police take heed of the recommendations therein. Notably, recommendations relating to a need to “professionalize the SAPS”, to recruit seniors transparently and on merit and, importantly, to reward those in SAPS who are doing their jobs particularly well.

Tying well into this theme, Project Coordinator of the Wits Justice Project, Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, wrote an op-ed piece earlier this year entitled ‘Don’t sacrifice human rights to fight crime’. The article first appeared in the Saturday Star and can be read here

The ISS 4th conference continues tomorrow, 22 August. Search for #issconf4 on Twitter to view live tweets and take a look at the ISS website for more information. Slides used in the presentations will be made available on the website over the course of the next few days.

Police beat me with baseball bat, says Joburg man

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Bruises on the body of Gerald Carey, who says he was attacked by two Kempton Park policemen last week. (Photo: EyeWitnessNews)

Kempton Park man alleges brutal beating by police

A 32-year-old Kempton Park man says a vicious attack by two officers from Chloorkop Police Station has left him with a bruised body and stitches in his head. According to The Star, Gerald Carey says the officers stopped him while he was driving home at about 10pm on the 9th of May. Carey says one of the officers became aggressive when Carey rejected his demand for a bribe. Carey alleges he was later thrown into a police vehicle and driven to an isolated place where he was attacked with a baseball bat. Read more.

Westville inmate could be released after daughter admits lying about rape

Cedrick Shezi, who was sentenced to two life terms in 2005, could be released after his daughter admitted that she falsely accused him of raping her when she was 8 years old. Now 18, the girl says her mother forced her to lie about the rape so that she (mother) could get rid of Shezi and continue her relationship with another man. According to the Sowetan, Shezi has always maintained his innocence and has been granted leave to appeal his sentence and conviction by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

East Rand police boss accused of bullying staff and nepotism

Sources at the Germiston headquarters of the East Rand Flying Squad have accused their commander of vicitimising staff and abusing the system. The Star reports that Lieutenant-Colonel Mbongeni Aubrey Khumalo allegedly mistreated colleagues, used official vehicles for personal use, and frequently took unauthorised leave. The sources told the paper that Khumalo acts with impunity because he is protected by the top brass of the Gauteng police. Read more.

Corrupt North West officer caught red-handed

The New Age reports that a police officer was recently arrested for corruption. SAPS spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said the officer allegedly accepted money to withdraw traffic tickets and cancel arrest warrants. The man was arrested outside the Klerksdorp Magistrate’s Court after being trapped by an undercover police officer.

Victim of Hillbrow police brutality seeks damages

Daveyton residents protest against police brutality earlier this year. (Photo: Muntu Vilakazi for City Press)

Daveyton residents protest against police brutality earlier this year. (Photo: Muntu Vilakazi for City Press)

Joseph Mahlangu, who was brutally assaulted by three officers in a cell at Hillbrow Police Station in 2007, won his civil claim against the police in November 2012 and is now seeking damages for general suffering and psychological trauma.

The New Age reports that Mahlangu was pepper-sprayed, punched and kicked until he became unconscious. When he regained consciousness, his stomach had swelled due to internal bleeding and he was vomiting blood. The officers demanded money before they would allow Mahlangu access to medical treatment.

 An internal police  investigation found two of the officers guilty of assault. They paid a fine and remain on duty. Read more.

MP falls victim to police brutality

JMPD officers are said to have collided with and hurled insults at an MP. (Photo: The Post)

JMPD officers are said to have collided with and hurled insults at an MP. (Photo: The Post)

The chair of the portfolio committee on arts and culture, Thandile Babalwa Sunduza, says is traumatized after the Joburg metro police allegedly smashed into her car and insulted her. The New Age reports that the incident took place in Sandton on Friday. Sunduza says people have warned her not to lay charges against the police as they might victimize her. However, she has reportedly laid charges of intimidation and malicious damage, in order to make the officers accountable. Read more.

Related Wits Justice Project article:

“Apartheid tactics stand the test of time” by Carolyn Raphaely

 

Don’t sacrifice human rights to fight crime

Daveyton residents protest against police brutality. (Photo: Muntu Vilakazi for City Press)

Daveyton residents protest against police brutality. (Photo: Muntu Vilakazi for City Press)

(To see this op-ed  piece as it appeared in The Saturday Star on April 6, 2013, click here)

NOOSHIN ERFANI-GHADIMI

Police brutality has become a staple ingredient of the front page in South Africa.

Last week the nation was shocked by the acquittal of seven police officers accused of killing Free State resident Andries Tatane in April 2011. Tatane died after police shot him with rubber bullets and beat him with batons during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg.  Footage showing the assault was broadcast nationally, but Magistrate Hein van Niekerk of the Ficksburg Regional Court ruled that the State could not prove its case against the officers beyond reasonable doubt.

The acquittal doesn’t give the public much confidence that justice will be done in other recent cases of police brutality, like that of a court interpreter who was allegedly dragged by a moving police van whilst held in a neck-hold by the police officer inside. According to News24, the man had angered the police for offering advice to a young suspect he had seen them harass.

Another story, published in the Sowetan, was of a constable allegedly closing the window of a police van on a young man, driving off, and leaving his body dragging behind. The 20-year old was reported to have died on the scene.

One of the main reasons for police brutality, it has been argued, is that torture is not criminalised, nor is use of force defined or properly restricted. Most people are shocked to learn that torture is not a crime in South Africa, even though it is outlawed by the Constitution. Despite the fact that South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1998, it has yet to domesticate the law. Why has it taken so long to pass such an obvious and necessary Act?

South Africans are still trying to deal with the shock and horror they felt when they saw the recent video footage of the other “police dragging” case: a young taxi driver was handcuffed and dragged behind a police van, because he had parked on the wrong side of the road. Mido Macia was later found dead in a police holding cell.

These shocking stories of police brutality come on top of the Marikina incident, where the footage of police firing on protesting miners was perceived by many as an awful flashback to South Africa’s apartheid past, and serve to scar our national psyche even more.

The Torture bill, in the works since 2003, has recently tabled in Parliament and the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development has heard submissions on it from experts and civil society representatives. Hopefully, the Act will be passed soon. But even if it is passed into law tomorrow, its implementation (including adequate training of officers and officials) will take years and that might be too late.

The credibility and legitimacy of the police – and by extension, our entire criminal justice system – is being drained, and drastic and immediate steps are needed to stop this leakage. Our trust in the men and women tasked with upholding law and order should be earned and continually reinforced.

A 2013 report published in the academic journal Regulation and Governance argues that in South Africa, police legitimacy is essential for effective crime control: because we will cooperate and comply more if believe the system is fair and we trust the police to be “just, decent and respectful”. This is especially so in South Africa, where a baseline level of legitimacy of law enforcement has not had enough time to develop. We don’t have a deep well of other, good, policing incidents to counter-act the negative because our democracy is still so new.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) analysis of the latest crime and arrest statistics paints a very interesting picture. Even though there were 1.6 million arrests in 2011/2012 (an increase of 11% from the year before) crime actually went up by 0.7%. The harsh, militarised approach to policing is clearly not paying off.

What is even more telling is that more than half of the arrests (52%) in 2011/2012 were for crimes less serious than shoplifting. That includes loitering, drinking in public and urinating on the street. If our resources are being directed towards fighting loitering, instead of violent crime, then police effectiveness is reduced.

If the police force is investing more than half of its capacity in fighting very minor forms of crime, this logically means that hard-core criminals are getting away with impunity and very minor offenders are encountering a police force that is not bound by anti-torture legislation.

And every time someone is arrested for a petty crime, their attitude towards law enforcement and the criminal justice system hardens and becomes more defiant. The ISS report attributes this to the trauma of being arrested, of being treated harshly by “tough on crime” police officers. Very few of such arrests make it to court, and if they do, it the arrested person feels victimised by the system and outside of its protection – and therefore its rules.  This effect is considerably worsened by exposure to abuse and torture by state officials.

The reported incidents of abuse are not isolated, nor are they a new phenomenon. They are part of a pattern that we at the Wits Justice Project have begun to discern with distressing clarity. We regularly receive reports of torture, brutality and apartheid-era tactics by both police and prison warders, embedded in what seems to be a growing culture of impunity.

Abuse of force and torture by officials should never be tolerated. Such incidents contribute to a weakening of the entire criminal justice system. They devalue the legitimacy of the police and the trust we each should be able to place in our law enforcement officials. In a country that has fought so hard for its Constitution and for equal human rights for all, such attitudes are tragic.

We must not sacrifice fairness, decency and respect in the fight against crime, because it will have the opposite effect. We need to stop thinking of torture and abuse of force in the abstract or as something that happens to other people, or to people who somehow “deserve” it. If a system allows for even one person to be abused or tortured, it cannot be relied on to protect the innocent – and that person could be you.

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi is the project coordinator of the Wits Justice Project, which investigates miscarriages of justice and is based in the Department of Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Clashes at Baviaanspoort Correctional Centre

Baviaanspoort inmates are on lockdown after gang clashes during a soccer game last weekend. (Photo: SABC)

Baviaanspoort inmates are on lockdown after gang clashes during a soccer game last weekend. (Photo: SABC)

Inmates and officials hurt in clashes at Baviaanspoort Correctional Centre

Twenty-one inmates and six officials were injured when a football tournament degenerated into chaos at Baviaanspoort prison near Pretoria over the weekend. The Sowetan reports that rival gang members clashed during a soccer game at the prison, attacking each other with various weapons.

Correctional Services spokesman Ofentse Morwane said prison officials used batons and electric shields to separate the gang members. The violence has led to an indefinite lockdown and the cancellation of visits.

Constable loses appeal against assault conviction

A Pretoria High Court Judge has criticised police brutality and rejected an appeal by police constable Raesibe Bushy Montjane against her conviction for assault.

The Star reports that in July 2010 Montjane was part of a group of 30 officers who raided the home of a Limpopo spaza shop owner suspected of selling alcohol illegally. She was convicted of pepper-spraying, slapping and kicking the shop owner’s daughter, who was badly injured and had to be treated at a local hospital.

Legal Aid to help Tatane family

The New Age reports that Legal Aid will be assisting the family of Andries Tatane in its civil suit against police minister Nathi Mthethwa. The family is suing Mthethwa for future loss of support for Tatane’s two children and his widow. Read more.

Meanwhile, the National Prosecuting Authority continues to receive criticism after the recent acquittal of seven police officers accused of beating Tatane to death during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg in April 2011. Two editorials in The Star and the Business Day castigate the NPA for failing to sew up the case. Read more.

Another theft from police station

The Bedfordview police station in Johannesburg reported on Tuesday that its exhibit room had been broken into. The Star reports that the thieves stole cellphones and thousands of rands.

The news comes as three men accused of stealing an exhibit safe from the Alberton police station briefly appeared in court yesterday. The matter was postponed for further investigation and a formal bail hearing, according to IOL. The suspects include a constable at the police station.  Read more.

New deputy public protector aims for speedy resolution of cases

The newly-appointed deputy public protector Kevin Malunga has told The New Age that his primary aim is to ensure that cases are resolved within three months. He highlighted some of the challenges his office faces, including a shortage of resources and a lack of investigators.

Malunga’s appointment has been criticised by some, who question his ability to be neutral in his work since he was formerly employed in the Ministry of Justice.

Minister: Police recruitment and command and control problematic

Minister Nathi  Mthethwa has highlighted problems in recruitment and command and control within SAPS. (Photo: DefenceWeb)

Minister Nathi Mthethwa has highlighted problems in recruitment and command and control within SAPS. (Photo: DefenceWeb)

Recruitment problems and poor station management are two of the challenges facing the South African Police Service, Parliament’s portfolio committee on police heard on Tuesday.

IOL reports that Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa highlighted abuse of power by provincial recruitment officers as a problem, along with “lapses in command and control” at the station level. Mthethwa also suggested that discipline is undermined by the desire by officers to shield each other from punishment for wrong doing.

Mthethwa said members of the public may be involved in the recruiting of police officers, with the names of recruits being published in the media and the public given an opportunity to block the appointment of a recruit who doesn’t have a criminal record, but who may be known in the community as being unfit to be in the police force. Read more.

The Cape Argus reports that the members of parliament attending the briefing said police discipline was unravelling, and public confidence in the force eroding. One MP said that instead of trusting officers, the public feared the police, which could lead to failure to report crimes.

The Minister said SAPS was committed to human rights and that the police should see themselves as “enforcers of the law and not the law itself”.

He also said his department was working with the SA Human Rights Commission and the United Nations on an initiative to instil a culture of respect for human rights beyond  the initial training which officers receive. Read more.

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