Legitimacy crisis haunts SAPS

One of the biggest challenges facing the South African Police Service is the “widely held perception” among its own staff and the public that many SAPS members and leaders are corrupt, according to a new study by the Institute for Security Studies.

“Protector or predator?” is the title of the study by Gareth Newham, the head of the crime and justice programme at the ISS, and senior researcher Andrew Faull.

They found that, although the police had come a long way since 1995, the legitimacy of the SAPS in many communities was still in doubt. There was evidence that corruption was widespread and systemic, they said.

“This is not to say that — a majority of police officials engage in corruption. However, the prevalence of the problem is such that it substantially hinders the extent to which the SAPS is able to achieve its constitutional objectives and build public trust,” the report said, adding that graft was “an occupational hazard of policing agencies worldwide”.

Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo said that the SAPS was getting on top of corruption. “We have 1 000 police officers incarcerated for corruption and other serious crimes like murder and rape. In Gauteng alone we arrested 150 police officers in a six-month period,” said Naidoo.

“None of us wants to be seen or branded as corrupt. We have 200 000 personnel and only a few are bringing us into disrepute. We want to get rid of the perception that all officers are corrupt.”

The study looked at how police corruption had changed over time in the United States. The Mollen Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the New York City police department in 1994 revealed that groups of police officers spent considerable time planning and aggressively looking for situations that could be exploited for financial gain. Yet a report of 20 years earlier showed that graft was pervasive but relatively petty in nature.

In 1999 the Los Angeles police department experienced one of its biggest corruption scandals when an anti-gang unit was accused of routinely fabricating evidence, stealing cocaine, intimidating witnesses and planting guns on unarmed suspects. Up to 4 000 cases were thought to have been tainted by the unit. “Corruption had become systemic — because those concerned had agreed to a code of silence and supervisors had turned a blind eye,” the study found.

Newham and Faull recommended that in South Africa police integrity had to “start from the top”.

“All commanders should consistently highlight, and in their behaviour reflect, the core values of the SAPS, including integrity, respect for the law [and] service excellence and they must regularly articulate what they expect from those under their command.”

To fight corruption a positive police culture should be promoted that supported honesty, hard work and dedication to professional values, the writers urged. The police should also know there were strong systems in place to hold them accountable if they abused their powers.

The report said that the public should be encouraged to recognise good police work by sending messages to an address set up to encourage police and mobilise community support.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Tension over who’s boss of courts

In a letter, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng questions whether Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has acted constitutionally

SABC sued over ‘bad’ clip of Ramaphosa

A senior employee at the public broadcaster wants compensation for claims of ‘sabotage’

Soundtrack to a pandemic: Africa’s best coronavirus songs

Drawing on lessons from Ebola, African artists are using music to convey public health messaging. And they are doing it in style

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Press Releases

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders