The incident of police brutality reported on SABC television on Wednesday which resulted in the death of Andries Tatane raises important concerns.
Police who are dealing with service delivery protests or other demonstrations are often responding to very heated and highly charged situations. Nevertheless as members of the national police service we expect no less of them than that they conduct themselves in terms of established standards of professionalism and discipline.
The behaviour of members of the SAPS which was portrayed on SABC television raises concerns not only about standards of training, but also about the overall standards of leadership being exercised within the SAPS. While there has not been as much heated rhetoric from police leadership around the need to "shoot first," there is still no sense that the senior leadership of the SAPS are actually fully committed to the principals of minimum force and proportionality which police members are supposed to uphold.
SAPS members need to uphold professional standards when using force of any kind. The occasional half hearted statement about the need for SAPS members to adhere to the law is not enough. The use of force needs to be recognised for what it is – a core part of the policing role – and appropriate steps taken to ensure that members are able to uphold the appropriate standards for using force. This calls for:
• An upgrading of the system for managing the use of force which is still in place within the SAPS and dates back to the apartheid era;
• A review of the training system
• The development of policy guidelines for members to ensure that they are aware of the standards and principles which the SAPS is supposed to uphold in dealing with the use force.
• Tasking stations commanders and other managers with the responsibility of engaging with their members on an ongoing basis about the standard which they are supposed to uphold.
• Proper systems of monitoring which can ensure that evidence of excessive use of force is addressed proactively.
Not only does this incident reaffirm evidence of an emerging pattern of brutality by police in responding to service delivery demonstrations, but it comes at a time when the number of killings and serious non fatal assaults by police are at extremely high levels. While it is important that the incident be investigated, it should not be dealt with as an isolated incident but as a manifestation of a systemic problem.
ICD statistics on the use of force by police both for lethal force (killings) and serious non-fatal violence are currently at their highest levels since the ICD started operating and recording these statistics in 1997. ICD statistics on deaths as a result of police action indicate that 568 people were killed by police during the 2008-2009 year and 524 were killed in the 2009-10 year. The statistics indicate that the ICD received 920 complaints of assault GBH and 325 during the 2009-10 year. The comparable figures for 2008-9 were 828-372.