Weekend Witness - - Opinion -

PO­LICE of­fi­cers with crim­i­nal records are a clear con­tra­dic­tion in terms. A twoyear au­dit has re­vealed that 1 448 em­ploy­ees of the South African Po­lice Ser­vice (SAPS) have been con­victed. They in­clude 300 se­nior of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing a ma­jor-gen­eral, and 700 war­rant of­fi­cers. Crimes range from mur­der and rape to rob­bery, kid­nap­ping and drug ped­dling.

Those con­victed con­sti­tute about one per­cent of the SAPS es­tab­lish­ment, but thou­sands more em­ploy­ees have been con­victed of crimes con­sid­ered less se­ri­ous. Even more con­cern­ing is the fact that 300 of­fi­cers were con­victed be­fore their ap­point­ment, some con­ceal­ing their past by us­ing false fin­ger­prints. At present, there is a ma­jor loop­hole in the Po­lice Act. Im­me­di­ate dis­missal for a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion does not fol­low if the sen­tence in­cludes the op­tion of a fine. And there is plen­ti­ful ev­i­dence of se­ri­ous mis­man­age­ment of in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses. Crim­i­nals wear a uni­form that sym­bol­ises the na­tion and are armed at tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense.

There may be ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances where a con­victed serv­ing of­fi­cer should be dis­ci­plined and coun­selled rather than dis­missed. But the way for­ward for a po­lice force that is in­creas­ingly seen as too bru­tal and mil­i­taris­tic does not lie with le­gal­is­tic rules and reg­u­la­tions that can be evaded by the un­scrupu­lous. It surely de­pends on judg­ments about per­sonal suit­abil­ity.

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