By GRAEME HOSKEN
Negligent police management, poor training, disrespect for law and order, criminal members within police ranks and blatant disregard for internal disciplinary procedures are the chief causes behind the scourge of police brutality gripping South Africa.
This was the message from renowned South African criminologists and the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) at a conference on police brutality and the use of force in Pretoria on Wednesday.
Police management failed to attend the forum because of other "commitments".
With 2 462 criminal complaints laid against the police in the 2009/10 financial year and the organisation coming under increased pressure following the murder of service delivery protesters across South Africa, criminologists and the ICD say urgent action needs to be taken to avert the crisis.
According to the ICD, of the 2 462 complaints, 920 (40 percent) were for assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, 422 (22 percent) for common assault and 325 (17 percent) for attempted murder.
Of the deaths through police action, 22 percent occurred during the commission of crimes, four percent during escapes, 10 percent during investigations, 46 percent during arrests while 2 percent of those killed were innocent bystanders.
David Bruce, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said: "It is clear that police management does not know what is going on.
"There is a clear absence of understanding from police leadership on how to deal with the use of force. Management has to take responsibility if this brutality is to be stopped."
Bruce said it seemed that the police's solution for dealing with crime was the use of violence such as extra-judicial executions of alleged cop killers.
"The impression being created is that police leadership believes that extra-legal methods are necessary to deal with violent crime.
"This leads to serious non-fatal police violence with reports of torture and assaults on the increase, even as police murders are on the decrease," he said.
One of the biggest causes for concern was the lack of clarity in messages from management to police members on how to fight crime, he said.
Bruce said many policemen acted with good intentions, but because of a lack of skills and experience, the use of force caused more harm exposing officers to great danger.
"What is worrying about this is that the use of force is often completely unnecessary, especially as the police involved could have dealt with the situations in another way.
"Even if police use lethal force with the intention of acting lawfully, they approach the subject with a 'cover your a***' attitude.
"They deal with the investigation in a way which will minimise the chance of being disciplined with the investigation being closed down as quickly as possible."
Bruce said to solve the crisis, the SAPS had to adopt professional standards with its leadership embracing a policing approach which emphasised the protection of human rights.
"Management has to take responsibility with a task team needed to focus on creating a clear policy around the use of force.
"If they do this, there will be greater community respect for police, effective policing and a greater respect for the law," he said.
Institute of Security Studies policing researcher, Andrew Faull, said where there were unrealistic expectations you would have members taking shortcuts.
"The crime reduction targets have developed a culture obsessed with reported crime, which has in cases seen police encouraging people not to report crimes.
"On top of this the training that is being conducted, such as human rights training, is merely a paper pushing exercise to get as many police on to the streets as quickly as possible, with focus on numbers rather than quality," he said.
Faull said there was evidence that corruption and police brutality were on the increase.
ICD spokesman, Moses Dlamini, said there were increases in police brutality. These were influenced by factors such as increased encounters between police and suspects and service delivery protests.
He said there were many challenges to dealing with police brutality. – Pretoria News