In several recent statements Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa and the National Commissioner, General Bheki Cele, have called for tougher and more forceful policing. This approach to the use of force is ill advised and will be counterproductive for both the police and the public in South Africa. Instead police need to be supported in attaining professional standards in the use of force.
The current approach to use of force by the South African Police Service (SAPS) is most likely to result in innocent civilian casualties, reduce police safety and continue to undermine the credibility of the police. According to David Bruce from CSVR, "Tougher policing will not enhance the effectiveness of the SAPS. Instead it will undermine the potential for the SAPS to win community support – the key ingredient for effective policing – compromising efforts to enhance police safety in the process."
In the build up to the summit on police killings being hosted on Friday by the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, CSVR, ISS and APCOF therefore call for a reorientation of the police approach to the use of force towards one which emphasises professional standards. Since 1994 SAPS internal systems for dealing with the use of force have not been appropriately adapted to assist SAPS members in coping with the challenges of policing in South Africa's violent democracy. Police need special measures to be put in place to support them in dealing effectively with violent situations.
Says Gareth Newham of the ISS "Given that the ability to use force appropriately and in accordance to the law and the SAPS code of conduct lies at the heart of an effective police service, establishing the systems to achieve this will not only optimise police safety but will also enhance overall police effectiveness."
Says Sean Tait of APCOF "These issues are all the more urgent in light of the fact that parliament will shortly be considering a proposed amendment to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act that will provide for an expansion of the powers of the police to use lethal force. In the absence of a reorientation of the police approach to the use of force this is likely to aggravate the current problem of excessive force."
CSVR, the ISS and APCOF are today releasing an information brochure Police and the use of force in South Africa – Time for a new approach. This sets out a framework for the SAPS to move forward to an approach to the use of force based on professional standards.
Our other activities in support of the professional use of force by police in South Africa will involve:
- Hosting a workshop on the use of force in Johannesburg, 21st and 22nd July. Senior officials of the SAPS and metro police agencies have been invited to this workshop.
- Bringing out Julio Thompson, an expert on the use of force who has worked with police agencies in several cities across the USA, to speak at workshop and meet with police and other officials.
- Calling for the establishment of a multi-disciplinary task team to review current policy, training and practice on the police use of force and formally recommend improvements.
Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF)