No need to ban­ish piti­ful po­lice watch­dog – just let it starve

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

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.

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