Cele calls for greater powers for cops

New police National Commissioner Bheki Cele on Wednesday called for a law change to make sure police can shoot at dangerous criminals instead of being “handcuffed” by the Criminal Procedure Act.

Cele told MPs he would ask Parliament to amend section 49 of the law when it reconvenes in August, as well as section 26, to give police greater powers to stop domestic violence.

He said the post-apartheid version of section 49 forced police to think twice before shooting, even when faced with armed bank robbers who had no scruples about killing whoever stood in their way.

“They plan properly and part of their plan is to kill people in their way. They plan for six months and that is why they don’t get empty banks,” he told Parliament’s portfolio committee on police.

The plain-talking commissioner said the high number of police fatalities had proved that when faced with hardened criminals, they could not afford to hesitate and wonder whether by law they had the right to use their firearms.

“Either he acts correctly or we bury him.”

It was up to lawmakers to “take collective responsibility” to ensure that the law was fair and did not afford criminals “greater rights” than their victims.

“One thing we must re-look at is how to allow police to do their work. We are not encouraging rookies or cowboys, but we are not handcuffing police to die alone.

“We will have to come back to Parliament to say can we walk this path together.”

He said section 26 of the Act must also be changed to remove an onus on police to ask permission before entering premises where they believe domestic abuse was under way.

“Here we have a man busy tapping his wife and [police have to say] ‘please can I come in?’ It cannot be,” he said.

“That person will cry until she is silent because she is dead,” he said.

Cele, the former KwaZulu-Natal minister of safety, has been in hot water for calling on police to have the right to shoot to kill, but said last week, when he was appointed as South Africa’s top cop, that he stood by his statement.

He told the South African Press Association that he had political backing for his plea to Parliament to review the Act, because Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa also wanted the two sections rewritten.

Mthethwa’s spokesperson said last month the minister had asked for a law change because officers were hesitant to shoot at suspects for fear of falling foul of the law.

As the law stands, police are allowed to use lethal force only if their lives or those of innocent bystanders were in danger.

They are not allowed to shoot at fleeing suspects or those suspected of having committed serious crimes, as was the case before the Constitutional Court struck down the apartheid-era version of section 49.

Cele said his top priority as commissioner was to ensure that women and children were safe.—Sapa

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