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Police force in a critical state

Sunday Time Editorial | 2012-03-04 00:15:36.0

Sunday Time Editorial: IN President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation speech he mentioned the word "crime" only four times. His Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, was equally opaque on the matter during his budget presentation.

He set aside R139.6-billion in the 2012/2013 financial year for "defence, public order and safety (excluding provincial departments of community safety)". In addition, he will make available R7.6-billion over three years for "improved conditions of service, additional personnel and infrastructure".

This all sounds quite impressive - if vague - but is in stark contrast to the true state of our police force. How do we know this? The police's own performance audit tells us so.

Most shocking is that one in six members of the SA Police Service - and many who are armed - are "not yet competent" to handle a gun.

The present state of the police force should not surprise us. What is truly alarming is what an incompetent police force means for ordinary citizens.

As the capacity to properly prosecute crimes diminishes, the ugly spectre of extra-judicial killings is rising.

This newspaper has over recent weeks revealed how suspected criminals - but also innocent people - have been shot dead in cold blood.

Those who are fed up with crime or who wish for the return of the death penalty may celebrate, but this is a dangerous road for our society to travel down.

The problem with the legitimation of extra-judicial acts by the police is that they will grow in scope and they will eventually affect many more innocent people.

Are the targets of such killings criminals or rivals of criminals that have the police in their pay?

Settling scores through the barrel of a gun is dangerous.

Instead of trying to reach our target of 200 000 policemen and -women on the beat, the government must concentrate on providing adequate training and resources for the 153178 currently on duty.

We need a police force that has the competence to keep the public safe from violent criminals - and its own guns.

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