/ 1 November 2007

Study highlights surge in police-corruption complaints

Corruption-related complaints about the South African Police Service (SAPS) surged dramatically after its Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) was shut down in 2002, according to research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

An average of 43 cases were lodged with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) each year between 1997 and 2002. This shot up to an average of 125 cases each year between 2002 and 2006, according to ISS researcher Andrew Faull’s recent study entitled Corruption and the South African Police Service: A review and its implications.

Instead of a few bad apples tarnishing the entire organisation, corruption was ”widespread, widely acknowledged, but seldom acted upon”, he said, quoting a study by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

In response to the ACU being shut down, the ICD created the ”hopelessly understaffed and under-resourced” Anti-Corruption Command (ACC) in 2004, said Faull.

”The unit currently has a dedicated staff of only three investigators for the whole country, compared with the 250 previously employed by the ACU.”

Both the ACC’s under-resourcing and the SAPS’s ”scant engagement” with the unit suggested a lack of political will around the issue, wrote Faull.

The total number of complaints lodged with the ICD between 1997 and 2006 increased steadily in that period from 1 999 to 5 119.

Faull cautioned that this might have more to do with increased public awareness of the ICD than with a proportional rise in police misconduct.

Turning to the reasons police officers engaged in corrupt practices, Faull said low salaries and a ”corrupting public” oversimplified matters.

On average, police officers earned more money than firefighters, nurses or teachers. Arguing that members of the public made the police corrupt was dangerous and only valid inasmuch as members of the public were not seen as criminals.

”The long and the short of it is that the SAPS has since 2002 lacked an applied corruption-fighting strategy.”

Faull said the organisation currently had one full-time member developing new anti-corruption measures, with a handful of support staff helping him.

”While these members are driven, motivated and dedicated to the task at hand, larger questions of political will are once again raised when considering that so few staff have been assigned to a project that has effectively taken five years to develop, and which is still developing.” — Sapa