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
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.