Lue, M. (1994). Input on Community Police Forums. Research report written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, November.


Melanie Lue

Research paper written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, November 1994.

Melanie Lue is a former Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Input on Community Police Forums

What is required is more than the dismantling of institutions of apartheid. New forms of governance that will promote human rights and the right of persons to enjoyment thereof are essential for sustaining democracy. Police are central to this process, in the sense that through their law enforcement functions they regulate the freedoms essential to democracy. The history of the South African Police Service and other "homeland" agencies have and will however exacerbate efforts to transform the institution into a transparent and accountable service. Unlike other institutions of state, the transformation of the police is essentially an internal process. There exists no viable alternative to the existing structure and Government therefore remains dependent on the institution in its current form.

For this reason the issue of policing requires a total transformation of the institution rather than mere piece-meal reform. This requires not only a changing of legal parameters and internal management structure, but a new ethos's must be created. The location of this transformation process must, it is argued therefore be located within a framework and philosophy which will not only facilitate a change of mindset but also necessitate it.

Community policing is such a philosophy. The term community policing has been widely used in a variety of different contexts. This has created different perceptions of what the concept means. It is argued that community policing is not a ready made theory or strategy. Neither does it imply as the term "community" connotes a homogenous and cohesive community. Community policing is rather a strategy which local communities' develop to ensure the rendering of a more humane and effective service. Community policing will therefore be a set of mechanisms which a local community implements to facilitate community participation. The actual needs of a particular community will therefore determine the nature of policing in that area.

The development of such strategies requires the empowerment of people in understanding their constitutional rights and in being equipped with the resources and skills to exercise these rights effectively. Successful community policing also pre-supposes a democratic society which enforces principles of accountability and transparency in the way institutions of State relate to communities.

The South African scenario is complicated in this regard, neither the democratic principles nor equal distribution of resources can be presumed. The mammoth task is therefore not limited to merely changing perceptions or rendering police accountable but rather to serve as a catalyst to bring about broader transformation.

This paper will examine the limitations of the Constitutional provisions and additional provisions contained in the draft Police Bill. It is argued that neither of the legislation provides adequate powers or framework for achieving "community policing" as described above.

It must be noted from the outset that the community policing is not limited to Sections 22 & 23 of the Bill.

a. Powers

Section 22 (1) makes provision for the establishment of forums at every police station. It also states that the forums should be "representative". Section 22 (2) specifies the functions of the forums, namely: "promotion", "monitoring", "advising", "evaluating" and "enquiring" into a variety of aspects of police accountability.

The powers of the forums are advisory. The avenue for the forums to make decisions does not exist at present. Recognising however, that there is a need for operational autonomy of the police and that police accountability is a complex process and needs to include accountability to the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the nation building process and not simply to the community via the community police forums (J Rauch 1994). We feel that this dichotomy can be addressed by placing a greater onus on the police to commit to a partnership relationship with the community. This can be done by making a provision in the Bill committing the police to consider recommendations and advice from the forum and by enforcing minimum standards on the police via the Provincial Commissioner with regard to the forums.

b. Composition

On the question of composition and constitution of the of forums the Bill is vague. Recognition of the difficulty of defining "community representativeness" as well as diversity of South African society, makes it impossible to develop an ideal model of who should be represented on the forums. Furthermore local dynamics will determine local priorities and local role players so whilst a taxi association may be a key role player in Soweto in a rural community this may not be the case. However, it is essential that minimum criteria be given as guidelines in order to ensure that there is sufficient participation to constitute a forum.

Representivity also depends on one's understanding of community policing. Understanding policing as part and parcel of the reconstruction and development programme and recognising the impact of socio-economic conditions on stability, security, crime and violence necessitate representation by different sectors. For this reason the involvement of local government structures and sectors involved in social, economic, health and other development sectors is crucial.

c. Constitution

Criteria for meeting procedure, quorum, appointment of chairpersons, holding of portfolios by civilians and any matters relating to the function of the forum (ie. taking minutes, frequency of meetings must be specified in order to evaluate the forums).

Our recommendation with regard to the above is that there must be a minimum criteria for the establishment of a forum. Recognising the diversity of provinces and communities in particular provinces one solution would be to require that each forum provide the Ministry with minutes/reports on progress and that a mechanism be established for evaluation of the representivity of the forum. For example some forums have taken the initiative and drafted constitutions governing their conduct. These could be submitted to the MEC/Mechanisms established in the Ministry/Provincial - Sub-provincial Community Policing Board for ratification and approval (contingent on continued performance).

d. Mechanisms to achieve functions/ liaison mechanisms with the police and ministry

Mechanisms to achieve the functions of the forum need to be specified ie. channels for communication, processing of requests by community, feedback to the community, community access to police stations, lay visitors schemes etc. There is no use in giving the forums the power to, for example, evaluate the reception and processing of complaints, without ensuring that mechanisms are in place to facilitate this evaluation.

The statement that one of the functions of the forum is to promote accountability gives no indication of how this should be achieved or even what it means. Accountability may mean very different things to different people. Similarly, the second stated function of the forums "to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the service" is equally meaningless and unhelpful for the forum members who will be trying to fulfil these functions.

Similarly, the relationship to the MEC must be clarified. It is crucial that there is clarity as to whom is responsible for the functioning of the forum and what the relationship of the MEC is to them. We would suggest that a liaison mechanism between the forums and the Ministry be set up to co-ordinate the functioning and sustaining of the forums.

e. Community policing boards

Ideally the community policing boards should be established at sub-provincial (area), provincial and national levels. Provision is only made for the establishment of Provincial Boards. Representation on the boards should be by a process of election from local forums to sub-provincial boards and from sub-provincial boards to provincial and provincial to national boards. This will ensure a workable size board with democratically elected structures which can address the problem of liaison and co-ordination of the forums with the police and ministry as well as ensuring conformity with guidelines and uniform and equal development.

The question of the sustainability of the forums is inextricably linked to the allocation of funds in the Police Budget. However certain principle decisions need to be made which relate not only to the sustaining of the forums but to their establishment and functioning. We argue that it is meaningless to provide for structures of accountability and transparency in the community without equipping the community with the tools to engage and operate these mechanisms.

Past experiences in workshops run on the issue of police community relations have revealed the inherent disadvantages faced by the community in engaging with the police. This problem affects the ability of the community to participate in the forums, the way the forums operate and finally the capacity of the community to sustain the forums.

In order for the Constitutional vision of community policing to be realised the process must be a joint one with the community as an equal partner with the police. This requires that the community must be equipped for this responsibility. The question of resources therefore remains pivotal to the success and stainability of these forums.

Historical circumstances and the nature of policing have placed the community at a disadvantage in realising these objectives. Unlike the police, communities do not have access to information, neither do they have any control, knowledge or insight into the institution which services them or as to how it operates. The capacity of the community therefore to engage with the police over these issues is limited and unequal. Furthermore the lack of knowledge by the community as to its rights with regard to police conduct further limits the extent to which they are able to challenge the police. Communities are therefore at a disadvantage not having the skills or resources to manage the process. Inevitable the police who have access to logistical support (be it the venue - a police station) or resources (tea) or time (police officers use police phones and paper during office hours to arrange and get people to meetings) take the initiative and direct the process. This is an unsatisfactory arrangements and is inconsistent with the concept of an equal partnership. No one party should be in a position of control or advantage to the detriment of the other.

The obstacles facing disadvantaged communities can be divided into 2 broad categories:

Education and Training

1. Capacity to participate in forums

  • engage with the police
  • attend meetings (transport and financial limitations)

2. Capacity to manage and run meetings

  • organisational skills (chairing etc)
  • logistical support (typing minutes, access to telephones, arranging venues, arranging meals etc)
Practical Running Costs

1. Ability to participate

  • transport costs
  • food costs

2. Logistical support/access to:

  • office
  • office equipment, telephone, fax, type writer etc.
  • venue

3. Employer costs

  • employing civilian personnel to perform organisational functions
  • logistical costs

The significance of the success of the CPF's relate not only to the Constitutional objectives but to the broader democratisation and reconstruction process. Crucial to this is the extent to which these forums are able to ensure continued and consistent community participation and thereby sustain themselves.

What must be established is what limitations exist on current Government expenditure and what the possibilities are for utilising existing resources (police or other government departments).

Various mechanism must be devised for proper co-ordination and distribution of such resources wherever located. Ideally such responsibility should be located in the provincial ministries.

g. Relationship to other units operating in the area

Section 22 (2)(d) speaks only of "visible policing services". Given the problems relating to the public order policing unit as well as the operation of other units eg. detectives in the community, it is crucial that the ambit of the forums intervention is not limited to visible policing only. These units must be located within the ambit of the forums in order to allow the community to exercise its constitutional rights in relation to all areas of policing.

h. Sub-forums

This is an essential and crucial inclusion in the Bill. It addresses the problem of satellite stations and also provides for establishment of forums at different points in vast areas managed by only one police station. The relationship of the sub-forum to the forum needs to be clarified and spelt out.

i. Police commitment to the process

As noted earlier all aspects of the Bill need to be examined to ensure a cohesive and entrenched commitment to the process. The involvement of senior personnel in the operation of the forums is crucial as well as a commitment by the police to consultation with the forums. This cannot and is not ensured by limiting the powers of these forums to advisory bodies. Mechanisms either by legislation or regulation of entrenching community participation in decision making processes which affect them need to be explored.

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