'Big Brother' to watch cops

18 March 2013 - 02:39 By Dominic Mahlangu, Graeme Hosken, Aarti Narsee and Boitumelo Tshehle

''Big Brother'' tactics might soon be deployed to stop the scourge of police brutality following high-level discussions in the ANC.

In a month in which South Africa's human rights image has been rubbished internationally, the country has been plagued by allegations of police brutality, torture and murder.

The discussions - taking place in the ANC's peace and security committee - centre on placing surveillance cameras in all police cars to ensure that arrests, and the treatment of suspects, are beyond reproach.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has ordered his national commissioner, Riah Phiyega, to act with urgency to "avert and reduce" civil claims against her officers.

A total of 5090 civil claims were made against the police during 2011-2012, costing the service R131.3-million in payments to state attorneys and R4-million to attorneys in private practice.

The Times last night learned that the ruling party's security committee is "gravely concerned" about the frequency of brutality meted out by police on the country's citizens - and is desperate to find ways to curb it.

Among the ideas being discussed are the fitting of cameras in all police vehicles to ensure the constant monitoring of officers.

The move, which will costs millions, will start as a pilot project in a single province before being extended nationally.

An ANC executive committee member, who is also on the peace and security committee, said: "We believe that cameras in police cars will help stop the brutality we have seen recently.

''Though we have no conclusive evidence to suggest that this will help, we have to start somewhere.

"The cameras will not only help the community but the police themselves.

"This might [seem like] just a noble idea but in other countries it is standard for every police car to have a camera.

"We should not shy away from this idea," he said.

A Gauteng ANC member privy to the discussions yesterday said that Mthethwa was considering various ways of helping the police deal with discipline. The introduction of police car cameras was one of them.

"The latest instance of police brutality has fast-tracked the discussion around this and talk is that the police should look at it and bring in various institutions, including law experts, to help draft a proposal.

"Those who argue about costs should look at the costs the police face due to cases brought against them.

"Millions are paid every year due to police negligence and cameras will help."

Lawsuits are to be brought against Mthethwa and Phiyega within the next few weeks. They involve the wrongful arrest of Diepsloot, northern Johannesburg, motorist Mohale Gama and the attempted murder of court interpreter Morgan Mohlala.

They follow a planned civil claim by the family of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia who was dragged behind a police van before allegedly being beaten to death in a Daveyton, East Rand, police cell.

Yesterday, Mthethwa visited Mohlala, who was allegedly dragged behind a police vehicle by a North West officer for more than 100m. He was then allegedly run over.

Mthethwa yesterday slammed police brutality, saying that officers who violated the public made efforts to fight crime "incredibly difficult".

"The only way to win the fight against crime is when police work closely with the community. If the public is violated by some within the service it makes this fight very difficult.

"Though we look at the other side of police members - their emotional and psychological make-up and stress levels - I want to emphasise that these cannot be used as an excuse.

"Those who break the law, whether police or not, will face the full might of the law.

"Any police officer who brutalises people has no support from us whatsoever," he said.

Mthethwa's spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, said last night that he was not aware of discussions about cameras in police vehicles.

"But this is not to say that we would not welcome this or any other such suggestions, especially if it can reduce horrendous things such as police brutality.

"Any such concept which can be tested and has good intentions would be welcomed

"One of the pillars the minister spoke about in his budget speech [in parliament] was how to integrate information, communication and technology to help fight and reduce crime," he said.

"But we need to emphasise that adhering to a code of conduct and respect for human rights is paramount to combating brutality.

"The minister conceptualises this as re-education of the police in human rights ... just being given a copy of the constitution is not sufficient ... everyday human rights have to be adhered to, not just in a police college."