Rauch, J. & Marais, E. (1992). Contextualising the Waddington Report. Submission to the Goldstone Standing Commission into the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation into events at Boipatong, August.

 

Janine Rauch & Etienne Marais

Submission to the Goldstone Standing Commission into the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation into Events at Boipatong, August 1992.

Janine Rauch is an independent consultant.

Etienne Marais is a former Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

The purpose of this submission is to provide a contextual understanding of the findings of the inquiry by Dr P.A.J Waddington into the police investigation of and response to the events at Boipatong on 17 June 1992. This submission contains further recommendations in relation to policing which are essential if the police force is to effectively serve the people of Boipatong and other communities.

Introduction

The authors are research officers based at the Policing Research Project, an independent research unit into policing. In the course of our research into various aspects of policing in South Africa, we have held discussions with a number of members of the South African Police and the police forces of seven of the TBVC states and self-governing territories. This submission is based on our research, the discussions mentioned above, as well as interaction with a wide range of policing experts at various South African institutions and internationally. The findings of the Waddington report are in our view, an accurate reflection of the nature of policing in South Africa, and cannot be ascribed to errors or omissions on the part of his enquiry. The findings in the Waddington report must be seen in the context of the result of the particular history, development, organisational style and political control of the South African Police. An understanding of these features is essential if one is to adequately address what can only be described as the "crisis in policing".

History of Policing in South Africa

The characteristics of policing and the nature of the police-community relationship have, to a large extent, been determined by the legacy of what can be called "colonial" and "apartheid policing".

Early police forces in South Africa were little more than paramilitary forces which were established to protect the interests of early settlers from the "threats" posed by indigenous people.1 These police forces were not police forces as they are understood in democratic societies, but were established to protect the interests of a particular sector of society - and were thus central to the process of colonial conquest and racially based oppression and discrimination which has characterised South African history.

The SAP was founded and developed within the context of racially exclusive power and racial discrimination of the colonial period after Union. During the later years of National Party rule, beginning in the 1940s, the role of the SAP in relation to the black community was defined in terms of discriminatory legislation which was designed to control and regulate the lives and activities of South Africa's black population.2 In addition, the criminalisation of many forms of political activity in the black community meant that the police served to protect the apartheid system of government through intimidation, coercion and force. This meant that the black community regarded the police as an agency which was designed to frustrate their aspirations. In many communities this perception continues to the present.

In both the colonial and apartheid periods, black people were viewed by the state as "inferior", and racial oppression routinely led to the degradation of black life. In the context of police power and the legalised use of force for the purposes of dealing with political opposition, brutality towards the black community was tacitly condoned, and seldom resulted in disciplinary action.

Under PW Botha's leadership, the National Party adopted the philosophy of "total strategy" in response to what they perceived of as "total war". This lead to the establishment of the National Security Management System whereby almost every facet of South African life was profoundly influenced by security considerations.3 At this time the SAP had already been involved in the Rhodesian bush war and during the late 70s and early 80s became drawn into fighting in, South West Africa and Angola. This process of military involvement lead the police force, and its members, to associate good policing with an overtly military role.

Years of hard won-experience, gained especially since 1966 in Rhodesia and elsewhere, improved training methods, modern equipment and modernized counter-insurgency techniques have all contributed to the respect the South African Police enjoys throughout the world today.4

The "total strategy" doctrine influenced policing in a profound way which determined both the formal organisational goals and the development of the police in South Africa. Through this process the SAP became increasingly drawn into the "counter-revolutionary war" both domestically and regionally.5 The adoption of the prevailing doctrines of counter-insurgency warfare, as developed by the US in the arenas of Korea and Vietnam involved the development of a whole host of strategies and methods, including the reliance on clandestine operations which are anathema to those committed to accountable policing in a civilian context.

During the 1980s, the counter-insurgency role of the police and the army was extended into the black townships of South Africa. One of the consequences of this was the extensive use of township-based "informers" to monitor the activities of a wide range of individuals and organisations. The association of informers and the intelligence network more generally with assassinations, torture and "dirty tricks" has resulted in negative attitudes towards those who co-operate with the police.

Thus the militarised origin of the South African Police in colonial forces, was further amplified through the involvement of the police in regional military conflict. In this period, the SAP was a key component of a counter-insurgency forces defending the system against a perceived "total onslaught" The threat analysis which saw the activities of black groups fighting for democratic rights as necessarily part of a treasonous conspiracy coincided neatly with the ideas about the racial inferiority of black people which remain the basis of racial discrimination. Discriminatory policing and the abuse of power in relation to the black community thus became conflated with the police force's fight against the perceived "enemies" of the state.

Police Culture

Police culture is the set of informal values which characterise the police force as a distinct community with a common identity. While its formal organisational aims are reflected in the standing orders and the official objectives of the police force, it is recognised that the informal culture, the "way one actually gets things done" is vital in understanding how police actually behave.

While an organisational culture is neither monolithic nor static, it remains a significant force in determining what kinds of methods and actions are accepted by colleagues within the organisation. It also determines the efficacy of formal procedures such as disciplinary and promotions systems. If the police culture is strong enough it can completely distort the formal rule structure of the organisation.

Police culture is closely related to the external political and ideological environment:

Police culture exists because it eases the life of working police officers. … It survives because 'police culture and its variations are reflections of the power structures of the societies policed'.6

For this reason, police culture will not be altered unless there is a fundamental alteration of the social and political relations of the society which is being policed. Brogden argues that "any substantive progress in diminishing the influence of the police subculture is a function of external factors".7 The structures of the National Peace Accord in respect of policing (including the Goldstone Commission), represent such "external" pressures for police reform.

A key factor here is the role of the police culture in mediating and obstructing change. Police culture, as referred to earlier, is a powerful source of direction for individual police officers "on the job", surpassing formal law and rules as a reference point for decision-making. For this reason, reform strategies which focus on the structure of the police organisation, without addressing its informal organisational culture, will have limited impact.

If the argument that cop culture plays a determining role in organisational deviance has substance, then attempts at controlling illegal behaviour should be directed at changing the very norms and values that inform policing.8

Seven key elements of police culture can be isolated: a sense of "mission", a combination of suspicion and paranoia, representation of the police as a separate community, resistance to change, a gender based chauvinism which reinforces the belief in force as a means of problem solving, bigoted views about black people and women, and an emphasis on realism and pragmatism above respect for the law.9

These elements are, to some extent, common to all police forces, but several specific features stand out in relation to the SAP. The prevailing dominant culture in the SAP must be understood in terms of the history referred to above.

(1) The dominance of a Calvinist religious doctrine which is theocratic in that it sees law and state as finding their legitimacy in the will of God.10 The view of policing as a "calling" suggests that the main point of accountability is to god and is ensured through the moral character of the individual. This has the effect of de-emphasising the value of mechanisms of internal and external accountability.

(2) The militarism of the police organisation is as a result of the colonial history of the force and the role of the SAP in the regional conflict of the recent past. It remains most apparent in relation to the process of basic training. Several key distinctions between military doctrine and the principles of policing are important to note. The first is that while Military action is usually conducted with maximum force, policing should be limited by the principle of minimum force.11 Similarly military action takes place when civil relations have broken down, and is fundamentally conflictual and unaccountable as far as whole communities are concerned. Police powers are delegated by society, and should only be exercised in a manner which maintains the support of the policed community. The command structure and decision making processes characterising military organisations are also essentially incompatible with the practise of policing. Military operations are centrally determined and effective action requires unquestioning discipline. Police action is dependant on decisions by personnel at the lowest level of the organisation and invariably involves questions of individual judgement. Courses of action are varied and complex, involving ethical issues and leading to a complexity of possible outcomes.

(3) A key aspect of police culture are the views and interpretations regarding the behaviour and potential criminality of different racial or social groups. Given the social background of many in the police force, the history of apartheid and the role of the police in enforcing discriminatory legislation, it is not surprising that discriminatory attitudes remain a key feature of police culture. Apartheid ideology relies heavily on the idea of "cultural differences". Cultural and anthropological myths and truisms feed stereotypical views about black criminals. These are accepted within the police culture as "facts" about different racial and cultural groups. In relation to current social violence, the simplistic notion that the violence is an ethnic conflict between different groups is all too often accepted without question. "Tribal" explanations for the violence tend to mask the role of effective law enforcement as a solution to the problem.12

Secrecy and Political Alignment

One of the effects of the militaristic nature of the SAP in the context of "total strategy" was the domination, within the police force, of the concerns with intelligence and counter-intelligence. The doctrine of total strategy also created an "us and them" mentality which at times bordered on the paranoid. Any person or movement who questioned the official perception of "the onslaught" was almost automatically defined as part of it.13 This created a culture of secrecy and suspicion which rendered the process of police accountability to parliament unworkable. It also cemented the exclusive access to the police enjoyed by the National Party, which remains intact to this day. The dominance of a culture of secrecy has the effect of reducing public accountability and exacerbates the levels of suspicion experienced by communities towards the police force.

Management and Leadership

The Waddington Report highlighted the "failure of leadership" as one of the key problems hampering the effective allocation of resources.

The nature of management in the SAP can be understood in relation to the militarised culture described above. The present leadership is more directly a product of the era of counter-insurgency warfare, because of the fact that stature in the area of "security" or "counter-insurgency" was the single most important requirement for promotion during the 1980s. The leadership of the police force is thus dominated by senior officers who "earned their stripes" on the ideological battlefield rather than in the area of conventional policing.

The legacy of the total onslaught era and particularly the dominance of an "intelligence" role for the police are profound. Most importantly intelligence gathering within the context of an autocratic bureaucracy tends to result in the intelligence being filtered in ways which are self-fulfilling. Intelligence which refutes the dominant views of the nature of the threat to be countered is suppressed, while intelligence which reinforces the perspectives of the police leadership is rewarded and thus exaggerated. The result of this is an increasing isolation of the leadership from concrete reality.

The rank-based post structure has, in the context of a lack of public accountability also resulted in a "generalist" approach to leadership. Promotion to specialist management positions is also not generally dependent on specialised knowledge. This is not a problem on it's own, but when combined with an "autocratic regulatory" management style leads to a failure to bring specialised knowledge to bear on management issues which deserve it. The absence of a culture of collective leadership or participatory management means that suggestions and recommendations from lower ranking officers with direct knowledge of specific problems is often ignored. This is also true in relation to the expertise and research input from both the Institute for Behavioural Sciences and the Department of Planning and Research.

Unlike many other police forces internationally,14 the SAP has made scant use of the outside expertise and civilian skills available to it. The attitude of leadership to research and the development of skills is at best ambiguous - many senior officers, without "formal" educational qualifications seem to be threatened by the younger generation of better trained middle managers.

The result is that management is generally ad-hoc in nature, and consists of responding to crises, rather than proactive and systematic assessment of areas where organisational development needs to be pursued.

Police Reform in the Recent Period

The most significant police reform initiatives of the post-De Klerk period are the SAP's Strategic Plan and the National Peace Accord provisions on policing.

The SAP Strategic Plan

The SAP Strategic Plan was developed as the police force's formal, organisational response to the changed social and political environment after February 1990. It was produced by the SAP's Efficiency Services Division after rapid "environmental scanning"15 and consultation. However, the form and timespan for this consultation did not facilitate adequate participation by all members of the force in developing the new agenda. Instead, the emphasis of this process was to educate about, and pressurise for, change - to "introduce the process of strategic management to the SAP and cultivate the acceptance of the necessity of the process".16

The existing strategic planning process demonstrates an unwillingness on the part of the police institution to relinquish its sole authority and to accept the challenges to traditional notions of policing which a through process of evaluation and planning would bring:

(T)here is reason to question the process by which the (SAP's Strategic) Plan was developed, and to evaluate the degree of internal and external environment scanning undertaken to provide the necessary accurate focus to the plan and its attendant strategies. … There is need to question the quantity and quality of external support being made available to (the SAP's Planning department). … Only one management consultant has been recruited to the assistance of the strategic planning venture. I question the decision to use a management consultant instead of a Strategic Planning Consultant who could provide the benefit of the latest intelligence and discipline surrounding this field, which, in the western world, has become a special management discipline used in support of organisational change and design.17

The strategic plan identifies, among others, the following problems:

  • rendering of service is not of an adequate standard;18
  • the SAP has a poor public image;19
  • there are also internal image and insecurity problems;20
  • manpower in the SAP is not deployed effectively;21
  • training is inadequate and insufficient;22
  • funds and other resources are not used efficiently.23

In response to these problems, the SAP management has adopted the following strategies for change:24

  • depoliticisation of the police force;
  • increased community accountability;
  • more visible policing;
  • establishing improved and effective management practice;
  • reform of the training system;
  • restructuring of the organisation.

Although the SAP Strategic Plan states that action planning takes place at every level, and that senior managers in the regions are taking responsibility for implementation of the plan, there is little public evidence of this new approach. This is partly because the spirit of the new strategic direction is not in line with key aspects of the SAP's existing policy. The dominant ethos within the police force is traditionalist, conservative, and resistant to change.

An unnecessary degree of secrecy has shrouded the development of the new Strategic Plan. This is partly because of a traditional suspicion within police circles about "outsiders" who wish to engage with the policing issues. This is further complicated by the SAP's unwillingness to allow any other parties to participate in the evaluation and planning process, or, indeed, to publicise its own new reform plan. This reluctance to engage with the broader public was noted by visiting Canadian Police Chief, W Harding:25

It became apparent to me that the degree of expert preparation and petition both on the part of individuals and individual organisations was not equally matched by a unified and broadened orchestrated response. In the face of a government and police service that closes its doors to their pleading, individual and orchestrated expressions of concern fall largely on deaf ears.
The National Peace Accord

The involvement of the National Party Government and the South African Police as signatories of the National Peace Accord in September 1991 was of great significance for policing in South Africa. The State, which had consistently portrayed political violence as a "tribal" phenomenon, and "black-on-black" violence as something peculiar to the townships, was acknowledging that it is not merely a referee, but a significant player in the violence. The fact that a large part of the Accord deals with police practice also represented a formal acknowledgement of the police force role in the violence.

The Peace Accord introduced a range of new structures and methods of operation which the police would have to observe; and which the Nationalist government would have to be seen to enforce.

Although these mechanisms for control and monitoring of the police were difficult to accept for the rank-and-file membership of the force, they did reflect the reform agenda of certain sectors of the SAP leadership. For example, a Police Board, police-community liaison forums, and a revamped public complaints procedure were all ideas which had previously been laid out in the SAP's strategic plan of 1991.26 The fact that the SAP's vision was so influential in constructing the policing sections of the Peace Accord was largely the result of the fact that the Nationalist/SAP negotiators had the experience and expertise in policing which other parties lacked.

It is still early to expect the Peace Accord to have resulted in visibly improved police conduct; the process of circulating the code through the SAP took a number of months, it was not accompanied by an educational process; and only one intake of student constables has studied the code as part of their training curriculum. However, the particularly serious incidents of police misconduct that have been reported in the intervening months (see below) suggest that the code is not having much restraining or moderating effect. The technical aspects of the Codes, such as the commitment to proper identification of police personnel and vehicles, have been most successfully implemented.

One of the major problems with the Code was the SAP's traditionally secret approach to its implementation. Although the Ministry of Law and Order said that any members of the force who refused to sign the code would be fired, there were no reports of any such action. Given the reputation of white members of the SAP for right-wing political sympathies, the claim that every member of the SAP signed the Code was difficult to believe. If the process of circulating the Code and disciplining those who refused to sign had been more public, perhaps the community could have had greater confidence in the Ministry's claim.

Police spokesmen, at the time of the implementation of the Accord, were also quick to claim that the Code contained nothing substantially new or different from previous SAP codes. This could explain the ease of the Ministry's statement that all members of the force had signed the code without incident. It is difficult to believe that the police view this Code, formulated in negotiation with the ANC and Inkatha, no differently to the previous codes which were formulated in the old apartheid discourse. If, however, this is the case, then this would support the view that reform strategies based on formal codes or rules have little impact on the prevailing SAP culture.

A number of independent, international missions have visited South Africa in the period since the Peace Accord was signed; and their reports make serious allegations of police misconduct in relation to the violence. Commenting directly on the new SAP Code of Conduct contained in the Accord, the International Commission of Jurists' Report describes the new Code as "an excellent document", but adds that "unfortunately there is a vast gulf between police practice and the Code."27 This suggests that patterns of police conduct continue to be dictated primarily by the traditional police culture. If "political discourse, at least in part, provides motivation and justification for organisational police deviance",28 current trends in police deviance indicate that the political discourse "on the ground" in the SAP has not changed substantively since 1990. This suggests a contradiction between the reformist agendas of certain sections of the police leadership, and their real ability to change the "heart" of the police force.

Confidence in the Peace Accord as a whole has dropped in the months since September 1991, but this has been especially true in relation to policing. This contributes to a cynicism about the possibility for real reform of the police institution, and growing concern about the discrepancy between the reform rhetoric of the SAP leadership and police practice "on the ground".

Neither the SAP's Strategic Plan, nor the Peace Accord, have succeeded in effecting real changes in police operations. This can, in part, be attributed to the newness of these programmes, and to the resistance of the police culture to change. However, both these initiatives are further hindered by a perception of them as "political" interventions into policing. There are many members of the police force, at all levels, who are resistant to the broader process of political reform initiated by President De Klerk in February 1990; and any attempts at police reform which are seen to be part of that process, are thus resisted by them. Weitzer pointed out in 1990 that changes should be introduced sensitively by politicians: "It is vital that police managers and government ministers explain fully the rationale for each change to all members of the force. In addition, the changes should be introduced gradually, giving members time to adjust to the new demands and expectations".29

Other Reform Issues

The key political significance of racial segregation and discrimination would suggest that the SAP would have paid particular attention to these issues in its attempts to adapt to the new South Africa. However a concern for these problems has been minimal. The first "integrated" intake into basic training took place nearly two years after FW de Klerks landmark speech. However, this process is neither complete not unproblematic. There are still serious disparities in the racial composition of the staff bodies of the training colleges, and in the provision of facilities to the different colleges.30

Despite that fact that the problem of discriminatory policing has received enormous attention internationally over the last twenty years, there is no evidence of a similar concern from the SAP. Questions on the problem this poses are invariably met with the response that the South African Police treat all race groups equally and that there is no discrimination internally.

It is our view that the use of community conflicts to undermine organisations promoting "ANC aims" is perfectly compatible with the counter-insurgency doctrine mentioned earlier in this document. An examination of the views of members of the police force towards the violence would suggest that the proclaimed commitment at a public level to prosecute perpetrators of the violence is not widely supported within the police force.

Police officers interviewed by us during 1991 see violence as a "political problem" which "the parties must sort out". It is also seen as a "cultural thing, which goes back hundreds of years". These perceptions result in the attitude that the role of criminal investigation and conviction in resolving the violence is limited. This is reinforced by the Minister's statements that the police can't solve the problem of violence on their own. The fact that families of victims usually have limited resources and may be concentrating on their own survival, means that, in general, there is little public pressure on the police to "solve" each murder case. The consequence of this is that people lose faith in the criminal justice system, revenge killings flourish and those who are involved in attacks gain a sense of impunity. There is no doubt that the number of murders where investigation has borne fruit is a small proportion of the total.31

Despite these problems, there can be no doubt that political control over, and interventions into, policing, will continue to be the major sources of impetus for police reform in the immediate future. Other routes for reform and other means of constraining the police culture will be discussed below, but it is clear that legal, political and local-level forms of accountability must all be present of there is to be real change in policing in South Africa. If these interventions are to make any real impact on policing, they will have to be accompanied by an education programme for members of the police force, and not issued simply as orders.

Recommendations

Dr Waddington's report highlighted a number of institutional problems which form the context to the inadequate police investigation of, and response to, the incident at Boipatong. Summarised, these are as follows:32

  1. Ineffective management.
  2. Poor planning.
  3. Inadequate investigation methods.
  4. A lack attention to sound police relations with the public.

Earlier in the report, he also highlighted the problems caused by a lack of true police accountability.33

The previous sections of this report have traced what are, in our opinion, the roots of these problems. This section deals with recommendations for improvements in these five areas.

Management

The key issue to be addressed is the need to place the police force under some form of multi-party control. This would serve to remove the SAP from the direct influence of one of the parties to the political conflict in South Africa. It would also be an important step in building public confidence in the police, by demonstrating that a broad range of interests are represented in the managerial strata of the force. Ideally, this multi-party control would result from a democratic process, which sees elected representatives of various parties taking positions in all aspects of government.

Problems of management within the force, at middle and junior levels, have been referred to in this document and in Dr Waddington's report. It is suggested that the structure and organisation of the South African Police are key obstacles to improvements in management and to the implementation of effective police reform. The organisational structure of the SAP should be altered to facilitate effective and proactive management, and to improve police accountability to the public at all levels. A thorough review of the organisational processes should include the areas of professionalism, promotion criteria and the use of outside expertise and resources. Chief Harding suggests that a comprehensive audit of the force should be carried out to determine its capability to deliver a new and improved service.34 Such a reassessment may result of the reduction of the size of Head Office, combined with a process of decentralising the police organisation and devolving power to the appropriate levels, as has occurred during reform of police organisations elsewhere.35

In addition, the style of management needs to be addressed. A more "participatory" style of management has been shown to be increase the effectiveness of police forces elsewhere, and their ability to respond to changing conditions.36 However, this is fundamentally incompatible with the military-type organisation of the SAP. This suggests that thorough demilitarisation of the police force is a pre-requisite to change in the style of policing and police management in South Africa. This would involve both symbolic changes (such as changing the uniforms and the rank structure) and changes to the procedures and operations of the SAP, internally and in its relations with the public.

There, are, no doubt, many members of the police force at junior and middle-management levels, who understand the problems faced by the SAP, and are eager to address them. However, their attempts are often frustrated by the top-heavy, military-style bureaucracy. These individuals must be given the opportunity to participate in the change process in a meaningful way, and to demonstrate their skills and commitment. This opportunity may be provided if, as Weitzer suggested, "the De Klerk government begin(s) with some long overdue personnel changes. It should appoint enlightened police chiefs committed to instilling a new mission throughout the force."37

At a local level, management of the police force which serves a particular community must be both sensitive and accountable to that community. This implies a greater involvement by members of the public in reviewing the management of local policing.

This would require a fundamental change in authoritarian attitudes and practices. "It is particularly important to bring an understanding to the SAP leaders that the focus of leadership has changed from the traditional use of power and authority to one where the leader's role is to use his leadership skills to influence subordinates to work willingly to secure the objectives of the (police) service".38

Planning

Like most other aspects of its operations, the SAP's capacity to plan effectively has historically been best in relation to political planning. The SAP was one of the key actors in the National Security Management system, which planned and executed State strategy in the 1980s.39 However, this capacity to plan has not been translated into an ability to manage crime and violence in the new context. It seems that much of the SAP's capacity for planning and strategising was geared for political policework, and that the organisation has been unable to transform this into a capacity to strategise around social order problems which are not overtly "political".

Even where the police force has embarked on planning ventures such as the 1991 formulation of the Strategic Plan, this process has not been adequate. Again, the police force's own weaknesses are compounded by a reluctance to use outside expertise (such as strategic planners) on a large scale. In relation to the Strategic Planning process itself, the leadership of the police force was possibly too eager to produce a Strategic Plan in response to the changed socio-political environment, and sacrificed thoroughness and the opportunity for speed and public relations gains.

This suggests that there is a dire need for a new approach to planning within the SAP, both at top management and at local levels. At the managerial level, there should be a Strategic Planning section, whose sole concern is planning, and who rely heavily on appropriate outside (including civilian, and, if necessary, foreign) expertise.

More generally, there should be a new emphasis in training at all levels on the acquisition of planning skills. Effective assessment and planning should become an integral part of police procedure.

As demonstrated by Dr Waddington, the capacity for the police to plan is closely related to its intelligence capabilities. Unfortunately, the SAP's Security Branch or Crime Information Services have been thoroughly discredited by virtue of their role in political intelligence gathering and strategising. There is an urgent need for the creation of a new, credible intelligence department of the police force, which services the planning function. In order to overcome the negative legacy of apartheid intelligence function, this new section should be governed be special provisions to ensure transparency and public accountability.

Inadequate Investigation Methods

Because the Waddington report focused particularly on police investigation methods, recommendations in this regard will not be covered in detail here. However, his criticism of police methods at Boipatong could be extended to cover a range of police operations. The deficiencies in investigation, community relations, and management need to be addressed by a thoroughly overhauled system of training. Such a system of training should be designed with reference to the existing deficiencies in levels of skill. It is suggested that a skills-oriented training, which emphasises the social, as well as the technical, skills of policework40 should be implemented at the earliest opportunity. Once again, such a programme should be designed not by the SAP alone, but with the assistance of appropriate civilian and foreign expertise.

A lack of Attention to Sound Police Relations with the Public

We recognise that the improvement of relations between the police and the community is a complex and long-term task, which is exacerbated by the current levels of violence in the community and by the high levels of public mistrust of the SAP. However, this is undoubtedly the most urgent task of all those concerned with police reform. The responsibility for initiating this process, and for making the appropriate concessions, must lie with the SAP, who need to demonstrate their commitment to public involvement in, and scrutiny of, policing. As Dr Waddington points out, "the first duty of all police officers is community relations: that is the only way that police can function effectively in a democracy".41

In order to begin this process, the SAP needs to conduct a thorough evaluation of the existing state of the police-community relationship. This will, of necessity, involve a greater degree of self-criticism than has been evident from the SAP leadership thus far. Problem areas will need to be identified, and strategies for addressing these will need to be developed in consultation with a broad range of community representatives. This implies that the SAP will not be able to rely solely on its traditional reference points and existing structures, but that previously uncharted territory will have to be entered into. It is submitted that such a process is possible, if the SAP demonstrates the appropriate self-criticism and good faith.

A key element of this process must be an acknowledgement by the police force of its history in the perpetuation of racial oppression and discrimination, and of the racist nature of policing itself under apartheid. Without a frank acknowledgement of the problems that this history has bequeathed the police force, there will be no improvement in the SAP's public image. This will require a more fundamental experience of self-criticism, and a greater abandonment of traditional defensiveness than the SAP is used to. However, without an acknowledgement of the problem of racism within the force and in its practice, the process of building of building a better relationship with the public will simply not get off the ground.

A similar process will be necessary in relation to the SAP's handling of violence. There will need to be a through and self-critical evaluation of the SAP's capacity to deal with social violence, because the levels of violence are of central concern to the majority of citizens.

The creation and implementation of new structures and methods to improve the police-community relationship should be the subject of ongoing evaluation, not only by the SAP itself, but in consultation with a broader group of credible public representatives. This must be accompanied by a willingness to concede that certain methods are ineffective, and to design and implement new ones as necessary. A flexible and dynamic approach to change is vital.

This process must be accompanied by an educative component, both for members of the police force and the public. Police training needs to reflect a new emphasis on the social skills of policework, and on problem solving, particularly in relation this question of police-community relations. Public education is vital if the community is to become an active partner in the policing enterprise. One of the major obstacles to change in this sphere is the fact that knowledge of policing has been restricted to an exclusive group. A public education programme which focused on the goals of good policing, and offered members of the public real opportunities to have a say in the way which their community is policed, would empower them to engage meaningfully in the reform of policing, and enrich the process.

Conclusion: Police accountability

Accountability of the police force is necessary in a way which does not apply to any other Government Departments or Professions because of the particular nature of policing. Because the police are granted certain powers by the State and society (such as the monopoly on the legal use of force), they are held accountable to civil society for the exercise of those powers. Secondly, policing is a highly discretionary activity.42 Because the law does not provide a clear set of guidelines for police behaviour in any given situation, the individual member of the police force is required to exercise his discretion in applying the law. There is thus a need for certain checks and balances in order to prevent abuses of police powers.

These checks and balances generally take the form of mechanisms to ensure the public accountability of the police at a range of levels. In democratic societies, the highest level of accountability is taken to be that of the elected government, which must be answerable for the conduct of its security forces.

The overarching framework for ensuring that police misconduct is censured and that abusers of police power are brought to justice is the legal system. In theory, the law should provide a constraining framework for police behaviour, and the courts should actively censure police misconduct. However, this is generally not quite so effective in practice. This is precisely because policing is, at heart, a discretionary application of law. Much research on police behaviour demonstrates that law and formal rules act as guidelines for police behaviour, rather than defining it.43

There also exist a number of mechanisms and ideals within the police force which are intended to ensure greater accountability. The formal internal controls in the police force are reflected in the Police Regulations and the Standing Orders. The Regulations provide for disciplinary procedures when any members of the SAP is accused of infringing a regulation or the law. The predominant method of dealing with disciplinary offenses is by means of an internal disciplinary hearing. This is conducted by a panel of officers, and occasionally magistrates are involved. The practice of police investigating their own misconduct is problematic, particularly at a time when the police believe that they are they are the target of a concerted propaganda attack. These disciplinary procedures are generally secret and take place within the context of the prevailing occupational culture.

Because the police are held to be responsible for protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, allegations of police misconduct, abuses of power or police criminality do enormous damage to police-community relations and undermine the work of the police. It is thus vital that the investigation of alleged police misconduct be carried out by a body which is separate from the SAP. Such a system must be based on the principle of public oversight of the police.

Because the law alone is not an adequate regulator of police activity, democratic societies generally provide for more direct forms of police accountability to the community which is policed. Not only does this create a further set of checks on police powers, but trust and good relations between the police and the public generally serve the interests of the police in crime prevention and investigation. However, the community tends to be disadvantaged in such a relationship because it does not have access to the skilled and technical aspects of policework.

To address the problem of police accountability in South Africa, there must first be a commitment on the part of the South African Police and the Government to the principle of public oversight of policing. This should be followed by an assessment of which structures and methods would best facilitate public oversight, in the South African context. This assessment should look critically at existing structures, including those of the Peace Accord44 to determine whether or not they do actually make policing "transparent" to the public. A range of possible new structures and procedures should be evaluated, and this should draw on the experiences of other countries which have reformed their systems for ensuring police accountability to the public.

Our recommendations in this regard would include:

  • A visibly independent and effective public complaints mechanism, a credible investigation procedure for such complaints with processes for meaningful feedback to complainants.

  • Public visibility of strategic planning, policy making and other areas of decision-making at the macro level.

  • Civilian involvement in internal police disciplinary hearings, to ensure that the interests of the community are represented in this process.

Notes:

1 Van Heerden 1986:31

2 Van Der Spuy 1988

3 Seegers 1991

4 SAP Yearbook 1992

5 Dippenaar 1988

6 Brogden 1991:14

7 Brogden 1991:14, emphasis added

8 Steytler 1990:129

9 Brogden 1991:13

10 du Plessis 1988 p.37

11 Smit and Botha 1990

12 Marais 1991

13 Van Zyl Slabbert 1992 p.24

14 Brown 1991

15 See SAP Strategic Plan p.3, which states that scanning took place during one month

16 SAP Strategic Plan p.3

17 Harding 1991:17

18 SAP Strategic Plan p.5

19 SAP Strategic Plan p.7

20 SAP Strategic Plan p.7

21 SAP Strategic Plan p.8

22 SAP Strategic Plan p.9

23 SAP Strategic Plan p.10

24 SAP Strategic Plan p.13

25 Harding 1991:3

26 See Marais and Rauch (1991)

27 International Commission of Jurists 1991:12

28 Steytler 1990:110

29 Weitzer 1990

30 Rauch 1992

31 Buthelezi 1992

32 Waddington 1992:6

33 Waddington 1992:43

34 Harding 1991:21

35 Brown 1991:66

36 See Brown 1991 and Halton RPS Strategic Plan 1991:22

37 Weitzer 1990

38 Harding 1991:16

39 Seegers op. cit.

40 See, for example, the training materials of the London Metropolitan Police

41 Waddington 1992:34

42 Haysom in "Policing and the Law" 1990

43 See for example Shearing and Brogden

44 The new Police Board should also be reassessed. While the Police Board is a step in the right direction, we fail to see the reason why an advisory body should be dominated by members of the organisation it is meant to advise. To serve as a credible source of public accountability, the Board should be given greater powers of independent scrutiny of the police force and the outcome of its deliberations and findings should be made public.

 

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