Q&A on police brutality

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has told police to break the law and let him worry about the court cases. Chris Barron asked Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies ...

08 October 2017 - 00:40 By CHRIS BARRON

Any evidence that this kind of talk produces results?
There's no evidence that tough talk by politicians improves policing or public safety by reducing crime.
Any evidence that it increases police brutality?
Not really, because most operational police officials know that when the minister says don't worry about the court cases, that is a lie. Telling a judge they broke the law because the minister told them to is not a defence.
So if the police don't take him seriously, how dangerous is this kind of talk?
Some might be more inclined to break the law. We have a high level of police brutality and criminality and examples of police breaking the law routinely. But because of a lack of police accountability, we can't say that when a minister in the last 20 years has said this, we've seen an increase or decrease in police criminality.Who should be driving this accountability?
It starts with the minister, but by law the national commissioner of police is responsible for ensuring the police are held accountable.
So having a permanent national police commissioner is critical?
It's fundamental.
We don't have one, do we?
We don't. In the last eight years we've had five different people occupy that post.
Does this explain the police's underperformance?
Well, over the last six years we've seen an increase of 50% in the police budget but a decline in performance, a reduction in detection rates for murder and robbery, big reductions in police intelligence output, a decline in visible policing ...
How do you explain this?
Because of what the National Planning Commission identified as the serial crisis in top management of the police, if the president doesn't appoint someone who is fit and proper, it causes chaos throughout the organisation.Which is what we see?
Yes. Poor appointments since 2009 by the president have meant that other capacities in the police haven't been able to function effectively.
What's happened to the increased budget?
It's been largely wasted. For example, Riah Phiyega was allowed to be on full-paid suspension for a number of years, so is Richard Mdluli at crime intelligence - on suspension for six years on full pay, with a driver, with all his perks and benefits.
Because of this crisis in top management, we've seen a deterioration of police conduct, so the payouts after courts have ruled against the police in civil claims have increased by 175% over the last five years.
In this context, how irresponsible are the minister's words?
Hugely irresponsible. It shows that the minister fundamentally doesn't understand how dangerous it can be for the public.
Is it important for criminals to fear the police?
They should be scared of the criminal justice system ... scared of being held accountable and going to jail. But if they're scared of the police, they're probably going to be like a lot of people who are not criminals who are also scared of the police because the police are routinely brutal.

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