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The police did not have the capacity nor the foresight to deal with the unrest, says criminologist

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Portfolio committee on police to call on ministers of police, state security and defence to account for their failures during the recent unrest

POLICE tried to restore order two weeks ago at Value Centre, opposite Makro in Umgeni Road, after people looted all the stores at the centre. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng African News Agency (ANA)

DURBAN – THE civil unrest witnessed in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng put the spotlight again on public order policing and crime intelligence in South Africa.

Last week, the portfolio committee on police said they would call Police Minister Bheki Cele, State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to account for the intelligence and security failure during the looting, violence and destruction of property in the two provinces.

The committee believed the R11.8 billion cut to the police budget was the root cause of the “dithering and slow response” by the police, to looting and destruction of property and, for two consecutive years, the police were unable to undertake their annual intake of 7 000 new trainees into the force.

Moreover, more than 600 SAPS officers have died from Covid-19-related complications.

Recently, Cele revealed that five provinces had about 4 398 out-of-service SAPS vehicles and 1 149 redundant or boarded vehicles. KZN had the highest number of out-of-service police vehicles (about 2 574), while no data was provided for Gauteng.

Institute for Security Studies’ Justice and Violence Prevention head Gareth Newham said the government, the president and the police have admitted that they were unprepared and they did not handle the situation as well as they could have or should have.

Newham said there was a large crime intelligence division of around 8 000 personnel and a budget of R4 billion.

“The division should ensure that groups that plan criminal attacks are identified and prevented from carrying out their attacks. Even if they do not have information as to when an attack might happen, they need to have a good idea about what is likely to happen.

“Not only because they are able to monitor and infiltrate those groups, but also because of historical analysis as to where there have been high levels of public riots, for example. Once they have the information, they need to ensure that it is acted upon. They should deploy adequate law enforcement resources to areas that are likely to see high levels of public violence and economic sabotage,” said Newham.

He added that if we streamlined these two components: the ability to identify networks planning these things, stop them from happening and respond appropriately, then the country would not have experienced what was seen over the past weeks.

University of Stellenbosch criminologist Dr Guy Lamb said police could only really respond when they had good enough intelligence and what happened was quite different to what was typically seen in South Africa, around protests and unrest.

“The police weren’t really prepared for it,” said Lamb.

Lamb felt that the police needed to find ways to build better relationships in those communities that were focal points of the looting.

“If we’re going to move forward, police need to have good relationships with people. If there are good relationships and people trust the police, then they would report on things like attempts at organising looting in the future,” said Lamb.

Lamb said, up until 2012, when the Marikana Massacre took place, public order policing was neglected. As a result, a lot of work was done within the police around how to improve public order police, so unrest, looting and public disorder incidences were the responsibility of the police to re-establish public order.

He said documents – recommendations by experts on how police should handle public order incidents, a standing order about it and the white paper on policing – describe how South Africans should be policed within a democracy and how police should respond in different situations, from visible policing to public order policing.

African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum director Sean Tait said: “Post Marikana, we put considerable effort into the way in which protests are managed. However, when it becomes widespread violence, the tools that we’ve got, in terms of a legitimate response to public order management, appear to be ineffective.

“We need to build police responses suitable for large-scale violence,” said Tait.

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