The South African public were being misled over the dismissal of 1 017 police officers from the South African Police Service(SAPS) for having criminal records, the SA Policing Union (Sapu) said on Friday.
"We find it totally unacceptable that the [Police] Minister [Nathi Mthethwa] and national police commissioner [Riah Phiyega] would mislead the South African public to this extent," general secretary Oscar Skommere said in a statement.
"Besides the legal process taken by labour unions to interdict the SAPS from affecting this draconian move, Sapu has been on record questioning the integrity and accuracy of the so-called audit process."
On Thursday, Mthethwa's office said 1 017 officers were in the process of being removed from SAPS while another 67 had left the service.
Acting spokesman David Barritt said the removal comes following an audit ordered by Mthethwa, which identified 1 448 officers with criminal records.
"After following the correct legal and labour processes, SAPS is now satisfied that 1 017 of its members are no longer fit to serve," Barritt said in a statement.
The remaining officers were still expected to appear before the fitness board.
Skommere said the "so-called criminal records" of police were far from the truth.
"Some of the so-called criminal records date back to more than 40 years whilst others are petty crimes like traffic offences that members paid admission-of-guilt fines," he said.
"The police leadership and management must not mislead the public in order to gain cheap political points because of the coming general elections."
He said Sapu wanted to make it categorically clear that the union subscribed to the principle of the rule of law and were by no means condoning criminal behaviour by members of the service.
"In actual fact we are of the view that the law must take its course at all times. No one is above the law including police officers," said Skommere.
"What we cannot accept is an unjust and unfair process that victimises junior officers for selfish political ends. Sapu has taken the legal route to compel the SAPS not to victimise any officer."
The union called upon SAPS to approach the Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council and engage with labour on the matter.
On Thursday, Mthethwa said the audit and resultant action showed progress was being made in ridding police ranks of dishonest officers.
"Those with criminal convictions do not belong in the police force. I have made it clear to SAPS that I expect zero tolerance with regard to criminality in the police, at every level,” he said.
He said the process was challenging but would result in a better police service, with it being in its final stages. –Sapa