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.