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Cops accused of crime are a symptom of a broken public service

‘No accountability at the highest levels of government’

The number of police officers facing criminal charges is a symptom of a bigger organisational problem, which has gripped the ranks of the public service. 

This is according to Jakkie Cilliers, founder of the Institute for Security Studies in reaction to statistics revealed by the Gauteng MEC for community safety Faith Mazibuko last weekend. 

A critical Cilliers, who yesterday spoke to Sowetan, said the lack of accountability permeated through not only the SA Police Service but every branch of the state’s administration, including the criminal justice system. 

This comes as Mazibuko revealed that a total of 459 Gauteng police officers had pending criminal cases against them, ranging from murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, corruption and helping prisoners escape.

Other serious charges include rape and sexual assault, robbery, breaking into businesses, assault, animal cruelty and domestic violence.

“The biggest issue is that there is a lack of consequence management and essential lawlessness, which is the big contributory factor. It is a culture and the biggest factor in explaining why the country is facing the challenges it is,” said Cilliers.

“There is no accountability at the highest levels of government. This is not an issue unique to the police service. It cuts across the board and is a general problem in South Africa.”

In August, national police commissioner Gen Khehla Sitole revealed that 962 officers were facing charges related to violent misconduct in the financial period of 2020/2021. 

The charges of violent offences include death as a result of police action, rape and torture.

In a written reply to the DA’s shadow minister of police in parliament, Andrew Whitfield, Sitole said that the province with the highest number of officers facing murder, rape and assault charges was Eastern Cape, with 266 incidents recorded in the period under review. 

Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga complete the top five provinces with most officers facing criminal charges. 

KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of deaths as a result of police action with 39, followed by Eastern Cape with 27, Gauteng with 23 and Western Cape with 16. 

Eastern Cape recorded the highest number of police officers accused of torture with a staggering 233 cases, followed by Western Cape with 154, Free State with 134 and Gauteng with 84. ADVERTISING

According to Sitole, only two officers nationally have been suspended on more than one occasion, and that was only for violent misconduct, which related to torture and assault. 

Sowetan contacted police spokesperson Col Athlenda Mathe in a bid to obtain a clearer picture of the range of criminal offences faced by officers but she did not respond to an email sent to her. 

The Police and Prison Civil Rights Union’s Richard Mamabolo said they acknowledged the number of officers facing charges but that investigations were ongoing and that it would be premature to come to a conclusion. 

“It is a concern because at any given time when such allegations are levelled against officers, it automatically creates negative perceptions about policing in general… 

“Despite there being such concerns, we still maintain that a majority of our members are dedicated men and women who serve their communities with dignity,” said Mamabolo. 

Last month, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate [Ipid], in its annual report for the 2020/2021 financial year, revealed that 11 SAPS officers had been dismissed from the service for cases relating to rape, corruption and death due to police action.

The unit secured 22 criminal convictions involving 29 police officers with the highest sentence secured being 25 years behind bars.

Ipid revealed that 2,468 investigations were completed between 2020 and last year, with a total of 106 disciplinary convictions involving 169 police officers.

Gauteng community policing forum chairperson Thokozani Masilela said the problem faced by his members was that they often did not know that their SAPS counterparts were under investigation. 

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