You can’t tell the cops from the crim­i­nals

The truth about po­lice cor­rup­tion is hard to come by. Crim­i­nol­o­gist LIZA GROB­LER has gone be­hind the scenes to study the vast ar­ray of crimes com­mit­ted by some po­lice

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

COR­RUP­TION at this po­lice sta­tion was wide­spread and in­volved con­sta­bles, sergeants, war­rant of­fi­cers and a few cap­tains – mainly non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers.

One of the of­fend­ers de­scribed cor­rup­tion at Sta­tion X as bad “to the limit”. At one stage, “all the guys were trans­ferred from this sta­tion to Ma­nen­berg and Grassy Park due to cor­rup­tion. The guys used to go to Hanover Park, where the gang­sters are, we would be­friend the gang­sters”.

An of­fender who worked at a dif­fer­ent po­lice sta­tion – also in a high-crime, gang-in­fested area – de­scribed his sta­tion as vrot (rot­ten), with clean cops who were aware of the cor­rup­tion choos­ing to look the other way.

An­other sur­mised that good cops were in the mi­nor­ity. He said al­though cor­rup­tion was not as open at “posh” sta­tions, it was there.

An of­fender said cor­rup­tion was “gen­er­ally very bad all over, some get away with it and some don’t”. One of the of­fend­ers es­ti­mated that be­tween 3 per­cent and 4 per­cent of po­lice mem­bers were cor­rupt.

When of­fer­ing in­for­ma­tion about the types of crimes com­mit­ted by po­lice mem­bers, many of the po­lice­men in prison said they were aware of th­ese of­fences, but not nec­es­sar­ily in­volved in them.

Only some ad­mit­ted that they com­mit­ted many of the crimes they de­scribed, and were not pros­e­cuted.

The po­lice know who runs il­le­gal she­beens, but they turn a blind eye be­cause own­ers give po­lice­men a bot­tle of brandy ev­ery week, said one the of­fend­ers. “We would go to a she­been and de­mand five crates of beer. If we were not given th­ese crates of beer, we would con­fis­cate all the liquor. Cops reg­u­larly con­fis­cate liquor and drugs and sell them. They also steal drugs from one dealer and sell them to an­other dealer.”

An of­fender who worked at a po­lice sta­tion in the south­ern sub­urbs ex­plained how drugs lit­er­ally landed at their feet one day – there were no false war­rants, no break­ing down doors. When they ar­rived at a premises they in­tended search­ing, the ten­ants came out, spot­ted the po­lice, dropped their mer­chan­dise and ran off. This yielded 1kg of co­caine, which the of­fi­cers sold to an­other dealer.

The of­fender said they did not al­ways keep the drugs they found dur­ing raids. They handed them in if there were wit­nesses. But if no one was home dur­ing a raid, they would keep the drugs and sell them to deal­ers.

Some of the of­fend­ers said po­lice steal drugs from ex­hibits and act as couri­ers for drug lords, us­ing po­lice ve­hi­cles.

Drugs of­ten dis­ap­pear be­fore they reach the po­lice sta­tion.

When there were po­lice road­blocks and deal­ers could not get through to de­liver to clients, they would con­tact their po­lice con­nec­tions who would col­lect the drugs in a po­lice ve­hi­cle and de­liver them to the buyer, for a fee – cash on de­liv­ery.

The cops not only de­liver drugs but col­lect them for the dealer as well, for a fee.

The SAP 13 ev­i­dence store fea­tures reg­u­larly as a ma­jor weak­ness, al­low­ing for cor­rupt ac­tiv­i­ties.

An of­fender who worked at a num­ber of po­lice sta­tions in Cape Town de­scribed how a clerk ad­min­is­ter­ing the SAP 13 store at a south­ern sub­urbs po­lice sta­tion would tell him to go to the phar­macy and get ibupro­fen tablets.

The clerk then sub­sti­tuted them for ec­stasy tablets, which she handed to the of­fender.

He said he also had ac­cess to the ex­hibit store and reg­u­larly re­placed con­fis­cated tik (metham­phetamine) with Epsom salts. The ex­hibits had been through the court sys­tem and were await­ing de­struc­tion. The of­fender was a tik user.

When an­other of­fender’s “squad” was de­liv­er­ing abalone for gangs from coastal towns in the Western Cape to buy­ers in Cape Town, they would use po­lice vans or ve­hi­cles hired by the gang­sters.

They would di­vert the lo­cal po­lice in ar­eas through which they were trav­el­ling by phon­ing in false emer­gen­cies to keep them oc­cu­pied while the con­sign­ment was driven through.

They used the same pro­ce­dure to courier drugs for gangs. Trans­port­ing abalone was an ex­tremely lu­cra­tive pas­time, earn­ing the couri­ers R100 000 per ton.

Smug­gling drugs (mainly dagga) into po­lice hold­ing cells and court­room cells is a com­mon prac­tice, the for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers said.

One said vis­i­tors who brought food for de­tainees in the po­lice hold­ing cells had to sup­ply the cops on duty with food as well. If the vis­i­tors wanted the de­tainees to re­ceive al­co­hol or drugs, they had to buy the cops food and pay them a bribe.

One of the of­fend­ers had a col­league who used to of­fer his drugdeal­ing brother pro­tec­tion from ar­rest.

The dealer sold drugs from his car while his brother pa­trolled con­stantly to en­sure that he was “safe”.

“A gang­ster tells us there is a ship­ment of drugs com­ing in for a ri­val gang and he doesn’t like it,” one of the of­fend­ers re­called. “We go to col­lect this ship­ment in two po­lice vans, sell the whole ship­ment to the gang­ster who gave us the in­for­ma­tion, for R10 000. Also, we tell the gang­ster that we don’t have a car, he lends us a car to use for an en­tire week­end.”

Cor­rupt cops of­ten raid drug dens us­ing fake war­rants or no war­rants at all. would then con­duct a raid, armed with a fake war­rant.

They knew ex­actly where to look for the goods, took them and got out of there as speed­ily as pos­si­ble.

Is­su­ing false search war­rants is a com­mon crime that still oc­curs, one of the of­fend­ers said. “It is easy. Dur­ing the week we must go to court where a mag­is­trate signs the war­rant, but af­ter 4pm the court is closed. Then the of­fi­cial with the high­est rank at the po­lice sta­tion, or from cap­tain up, can also sign a war­rant.

“If there aren’t of­fi­cers around af­ter 4pm we phone ra­dio con­trol be­cause there is al­ways an of­fi­cer on duty there. We take the search war­rant to ra­dio con­trol to be signed. In other cases I will sign the war­rant my­self.”

Th­ese search war­rants are of­ten used in drug-re­lated crimes. One of the of­fend­ers said it was not un­com­mon for drug deal­ers to phone cor­rupt mem­bers and com­plain about an­other, more suc­cess­ful, dealer.

The dealer asks the po­lice­man to “check the ri­val out”. The po­lice­man goes in with a war­rant, searches the ri­val dealer’s house and steals his drugs if any are found.

It was also not un­com­mon for squads of cor­rupt cops to il­le­gally raid premises out­side of their area. Of­fend­ers say of­fi­cers based at the Elsies River po­lice sta­tion raided premises oc­cu­pied by Nige­rian drug deal­ers in Mait­land, and Philippi cops raided a premises in Clare­mont.

“If we knew there was some­thing in a house we wanted, we would go and get it,” an of­fender said.

An­other said a col­league who was in­volved in drugs bought a smart car with a R14 000 CD sys­tem in the cub­by­hole, where he also kept a wad of R50 notes. Asked where he got the cash, car and CD player, he told col­leagues that his par­ents had a wine farm and he was sell­ing wine for them.

The po­lice­man thought he was un­touch­able and be­gan driv­ing a Porsche.

He had been smug­gling co­caine for years and was even­tu­ally found out when he hired a run­ner who was also a po­lice in­former. Of­fi­cers pulled him off the road and found drugs in his car. The po­lice­man never went to jail be­cause he paid ev­ery­body off, the of­fender com­plained.

An­other de­scribed how po­lice of­fi­cers con­fis­cated about 2kg of ec­stasy tablets dur­ing a raid on a Sea Point night­club.

A sus­pect and the drugs were taken to the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion, where it was found that most of the tablets were miss­ing. There was a de­bate be­tween the of­fi­cers whether they should ar­rest the sus­pect or let him go.

Even­tu­ally the sus­pect com­plained that this wasn’t fair; he had al­ready paid a po­lice­man off so he wouldn’t be ar­rested, and now his drugs had been stolen.

This is an ex­tract from Cross­ing the Line: When Cops be­come Crim­i­nals, pub­lished by Ja­cana at a rec­om­mended re­tail price of R195.

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