Police chief vows to act against abuse of power

Gauteng police commissioner Mzwandile Petros. (Gallo)

Gauteng police commissioner Mzwandile Petros. (Gallo)

Addressing an Institute of Security Studies (ISS) seminar on Thursday, Lieutenant General Petros added that better training of police officers will not solve the problem of police brutality, and that a lack of control and command is a major problem.

Petros addressed the seminar on Thursday afternoon in Pretoria. He stood in for national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, who was scheduled to give an address at the event but cancelled at the last minute.

Before Petros's address, national spokesperson for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Moses Dlamini, had harsh words for the police's track record on brutality. He said events like Marikana and the Andries Tatane murder had hurt the reputation of the police and the country.

Statistics revealed that while incidents of police brutality have decreased over the 2011/2012 financial year, notable examples remained.

Dlamini said the IPID had investigated a case where the police allegedly shot dead an 11-year-old girl, for example.
Most deaths at the hands of police occurred during arrests, he pointed out.

Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the ISS, pointed to statistics that showed an increase in service delivery protests of 111% in the last year. About 80% of these were violent.

Petros defended the policies of the police, following harsh criticism from speakers from the IPID and the ISS but agreed that these were not always implemented.

"We need to be seen to be doing something about the abuse of power. There is no lack of evidence of that. We went beyond just condemning the abuse of power; we acted. But I agree that a lack of control and command is a problem," Petros said.

Pressure
He added that gatherings like at Marikana were "downright illegal" and this placed an enormous amount of pressure on the police. There are about 30 crowd gatherings in South Africa per day.

Petros said blaming a lack of training was "the easy way out".

Pointing to police officers at management level who were junior officers during apartheid, he said several programmes had been implemented to change their behaviour.

Petros agreed with Dlamini, however, that command and control structures needed to be improved.

Petros emphasised that the police's code of conduct, and several policies, existed. He said police even had the technology to know where each policeman is "at all times".

"But is it being implemented? That is questionable." Petros said top of the police's list of priorities was transformation, followed by the quality for recruitment and the quality of training.

But transformation was not only about race, he said. "It [transformation] is the quality of services to be delivered."

Burger emphasised that solutions proposed in the national development plan needed to be implemented. However, he cautioned that merely demilitarising the police by changing its ranking structure would be "barking up the wrong tree".

He said the language and tone used in the police service needed to be demilitarised too.

'No information'
Phiyega’s office had “no information” on Wednesday evening as to why Phiyega cancelled her address at the Institute for Security Study’s seminar on police brutality on Thursday.

The seminar, held at Unisa in Pretoria, was entitled: “Understanding police brutality in South Africa: Challenges and solutions”. The ISS said the event was prompted by “unprecedented” media attention, at home and internationally, focussing on incidents of police brutality in the country.

Phiyega’s spokesperson Brigadier Phuti Setati said he could not comment on why Phiyega cancelled her appearance because he had “no information” surrounding it.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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