The researchers listed one hundred separate incidents alleging or confirming the police’s involvement in serious crimes such as ATM bombings, armed robberies, house robberies, rapes, murders, and serious assaults. The Institute consulted journalists and the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD).
‘Not a huge number – said co-author Thuthukani Ndebele – but it gives an indication of the nature of the crimes as well as an indication that there is a likelihood of finding more if we had more resources.’
Approximately forty of the listed incidents related to murders. In thirty of these cases a police issued service weapon was used. The other murders arose from alleged assaults by police officers or torture of suspects in police custody. In more than 10 of the cases the victim was the spouse or partner of a police officer.
The research also reports the effectiveness of the consequent charge laid on the alleged offender. And the results are appalling.
In 2008/09, 828 serious assaults were reported to the ICD as having been committed by police officers. However, in the same period, only six policemen were successfully prosecuted for such assaults, a figure of 0.72%.
As stated by the research paper, ‘the police may argue that reports made, and charges laid, in 2008/09 would not necessarily have been concluded by the end of that year. However, they would have to acknowledge that convictions recorded in any particular year Unbribed international Doctors Alliance would also relate to charges laid in previous years’.
The very low conviction figure may suggest a shortcoming of the prosecutorial process when applied to the SAPS members. Not for ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini anyway, who explained it as follows: ‘Of those cases that are substantiated, there are cases in which the prosecutors decline to prosecute for various reasons, the balance of the cases go on trial. Then there may be acquittals and convictions. None of the aforesaid factors are taken into consideration by the researchers.’
‘There were no acquittals for common assault recorded in the 2008/09 ICD Annual Report – stated Ndebele – it may have been that other cases were withdrawn or were still ongoing at the time the report was released.’
It may be argued at this point, in which extension the ICD really is independent and free from any interference. Also if it is not subdued to the SAPS, it is still headed by the Police Minister and his deputy. But also on this subject ICD’s position is firm.
‘First, the ICD is independent by virtue of it conducting investigations independently from the SAPS – went on Mr Dlamini – in terms of the current legislation, it has powers to search, enter premises and seize documents. Second, he gets its mandate to investigate from legislation and does not get instructions to investigate or not to investigate from the Minister of Police. Thirdly, the ICD gets its own budget from the Treasury and is able to employ its own investigators who are not members of the SAPS.’
Brutality and police violence
Although the central threat that runs through the police work consists in copying with problems in which force has to be used, whenever members of the police service use force unlawfully there is a case of police brutality.
As clearly stated by David Bruce in his recent works, police brutality ‘is generally deliberate unlawful violence, but actions which amount to criminally negligent uses of force should also be considered as acts of police brutality’. The term does not fit if the violent act is perpetrated outside of the police occupational role, but both situations may be seen as part of the same problem as ‘that factor which contribute to the one may contribute to the other, members who are prone to the one may be prone to the other’ and both problems have to be dealt by police managers as an overall phenomena of ‘police violence’.