By Noelene Barbeau
National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele has defended the SA Police Force (SAPF), saying there are structures to investigate police brutality and to take action when police are guilty of acting outside the law.
These structures, he said yesterday, were better than other government structures in place.
"There are quite a few allegations of police brutality. Many are authentic and many are also hoaxes. We have infrastructures such as the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), the secretariat and our own internal investigating wing," he said.
However, DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, a member of the parliamentary police portfolio committee, said the ICD had no teeth and was underfunded. The committee would work on legislation to provide the ICD with the necessary power to act against "crooked cops".
Since the Daily News reported on Durban attorney Sugandhini Moodley's ordeal with armed metro police recently, others have come forward with similar claims of police brutality.
Moodley said she was handcuffed, slapped and dragged to a police vehicle after they claimed that she did not stop at a red traffic light in Montclair.
Phoenix resident Cassim Lavangee said he was stopped in Gillespie Street on Durban's South Beach by metro police in March. He was travelling in his bakkie with a friend and his two young children and was stopped by the police about his beach permit.
"The policeman said I had to be fined for having one extra person than allowed on my permit. He took an hour to issue me with a R200 fine. During this time they handcuffed me, put me into their police van and then took me to the nearest police station before releasing me," he said.
"They were sarcastic, rude and used their uniform in the wrong manner. The police are getting out of hand."
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation conducted a study on police brutality in 2002 and recommended improved powers and resourcing for the ICD, which became operational in 1997.
"It is clear that the ICD is severely underfunded and is lacking the necessary powers it needs to enable it to fulfil its mandate adequately," its report read.
It also called for the development of effective internal police systems for lodging complaints against police members and improvements in the functioning and effectiveness of the internal investigative and disciplinary systems in the police force.
Eight years later, the police portfolio committee is to begin work on legislation to give the ICD more teeth.
Kohler Barnard said she had been worried since the "apartheid-era militarisation of the police" started.
She said police brutality had increased in KwaZulu-Natal.
Of particular concern was attacks on female drivers.
"No one is going to trust the police again. Talks of shoot to kill and innocent people dying as a result is going back to the police of the apartheid era. Police abuse human rights and treat everyone as criminals when we have a court to determine innocence or guilt," she said.
She added that the committee hoped to implement the new ICD legislation this year. She said the ICD would investigate complaints against members of the SAPF and the metro police.
"We have so many good police officers, but their names are blackened by the small group of bad police officers. People are now too afraid to report such incidents."
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union has also warned against the remilitarisation of police. It said this could plunge the country into a dictatorship and go back to apartheid days where police wielded too much power.
The union intends to act against police brutality.
The SA Human Rights Commission has also called for police brutality to be stamped out. The commission recommended that the SAPF draw a clear distinction between assertive policing and brutality and to communicate that distinction to its members.
"The… society can ill afford to have these kind of incidents reverse the positive strides that have been made and to let these incidents overshadow the otherwise good work that the majority of members of the (SAPF) perform," it said.