Bully cops beware: Police watchdog gets a new set of teeth

Unruly elements within the South African Police Service (SAPS) should brace themselves for harsher sanctions after new legislation governing the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) comes into effect on April 1.

Amid an increase in the number of reports of police brutality and growing public criticism of perceived heavy-handedness by the police, the new legislation makes provision for the ICD to be transformed into a beefed-up watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

“[Before now,] we didn’t have the necessary resources or personnel to fulfil our mandate, but this new legislation will give us a wider reach and more power to perform our duties,” ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini told the Mail & Guardian.

The unit’s imminent transformation comes after numerous reports of increased lawlessness among the police, mostly due to inadequate training being offered to new recruits.

In February, Soweto teenager Thato Mokoka was gunned down, apparently by a trainee constable.

Grappling with guns
On Sunday it was reported that more than 27 000 police officers on active duty had failed the firearms proficiency test.

Tasked with investigating cases of alleged misconduct against the SAPS, the ICD has often been seen as a toothless tiger unable to adequately fulfil its mandate.

After transgressions were investigated by the ICD, the SAPS was neither compelled nor legally bound to take any action against their members.

“Even if it came to something simple like an identity parade, the SAPS would frustrate investigations and act exactly how they wanted—rendering us useless,” Dlamini said.

This is set to change under the provisions of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act, 2011 (1 of 2011).

Power to act
The IPID will now have the power to compel the police to take note of their findings and take remedial action where necessary.

According to Dlamini, the IPID plans to double the number of staff it employs in order to “drastically increase” the investigative capacity of the unit.

“We will have more skilled investigators who are experts in fields such as police brutality, which will allow us to cast the net wider and ensure the necessary culprits are brought to book,” Dlamini said.

Exact figures for the increased budget IPID requires or the number of staff they will employ are not yet available, as the unit must first formally request additional funding from the treasury.

‘At loggerheads’
The move has been welcomed by the police, with spokesperson Brigadier Lindela Mashigo conceding that police behaviour “sometimes deviated” from the SAPS mandate.

“In any relationship there are times when you will be at loggerheads with your partner and we welcome any proposals that will lead to a more efficient SAPS ,” Mashigo said.

Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ Crime & Justice program, said the move was “vital” if policing in South Africa is to keep up with the international standards found in other constitutional democracies.

“South African citizens will now be protected by a unit ensuring those tasked with protecting them are also held to account for their behaviour,” Burger told the M&G.

The new legislation has also been welcomed by opposition parties.

‘Absolute contempt’
“The ICD is treated with absolute contempt by the SAPS,” said the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on policing, Dianne Kohler-Barnard. “Hopefully this new legislation will break the endemic system of cover-ups and lawlessness within our police force.”

Police ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said that the IPCD would have “more teeth” to “bite the necessary legs”, and the department was optimistic about the unit’s success.

“We’ve managed to empower them with legislation, we just hope they will be able to follow through. We don’t want unruly forces within the police and the IPID must ensure that we don’t,” said Mnisi.

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Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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