No need to banish pitiful police watchdog – just let it starve
IT’S REMARKABLE how dumb thugs are. Ministers promise the police will “kill the bastards”, but the baddies just don’t get it. Every week “criminals” are being shot dead because they “resisted arrest” and went for their guns.
Now and again the police accounts sound a tad dubious and there has been the occasional oops! moment – like the three-year-old killed – but what the hell.
Most of these deaths go unlamented and we can trust the police watchdog is in control.
Actually, no. The watchdog is on its last legs, destined for the euthanasia room.
A few years ago then-National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi called for the disbanding of the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) because it had “outlived its usefulness”.
The police could be trusted to monitor themselves, said Selebi.
Selebi was right. Not about the ability of the SA Police Service (SAPS) to monitor itself, but about the ICD’s usefulness.
The ICD has joined an array of oversight institutions set up to secure South Africa’s new democracy, but they have subsided into ennui because the government has absolutely no intention of being con- strained. Think of the toothless SA Human Rights Commission at which the ANC Youth League with monotonous regularity thumbs its nose; the spineless Public Protector who unabashedly covers the government’s rear; the sonorously named but near-invisible Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities; and the vocal but hapless Commission for Gender Equality, which even the ANC concedes is clueless.
Out of this array of ANC-commandeered institutions, the ICD matters most to ordinary South Africans.
The criminal charges Selebi now faces are just the tip of a police ice- berg of incompetence, unlawful killing, torture and corruption.
Poorly trained and often poorly led, the SAPS increasingly sees itself as above the laws it is supposed to police.
Literally not a week goes by without another outrageous act of police brutality or incompetence.
Each year there are about 6 000 complaints against police officers, many involving allegations of torture, rape, assault and unlawful death.
In the year to March 2009, the cops shot and killed 556 suspects, of whom at least 32, it conceded, were innocent bystanders.
In 2008, according to a hastily retracted ICD statement, the direc- torate in KwaZulu-Natal alone investigated 830 law enforcement officers, of which 174 involved deaths in custody. Only one conviction had been secured in the previous year.
The ICD, charged with the “effective and efficient” investigation into police misconduct and criminality, is simply overwhelmed.
It last issued an annual report in 2001. It only has half the staff that it is entitled to, but its website lists no vacancies.
There are fewer than a hundred ICD investigators and the SAPS routinely stonewalls their investigators.
SAPS officers are not compelled to call ICD investigators to a police killing, nor are they obliged to provide a statement in response to ICD inquiries. Last year the DA managed to ferret out that around 90 percent of ICD recommendations to the SAPS are simply ignored.
Of those that are acknowledged, the SAPS complies just over half of the time.
It is worth visiting the ICD’s doleful little website to view its plight.
Its handful of media releases trumpet paltry successes – mostly drunken cops who shot their girlfriends or wives – with the signature flourish of “we hope this will serve as a warning to other police officers that we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that justice prevails in the end”.
No need to banish the watchdog, just let it starve.