Attack on Chatsworth Police Station gave criminals the upper hand
If law abiding citizens and law enforcement clash, criminals will celebrate because they stand to benefit, writes Brigadier JAY NAICKER, head of corporate communication and liaison for SAPS in KwaZulu-Natal.
ALOT has been said over the past week about the violence that unfolded following the death of little Sadia Sukhraj, who became the latest victim of crime at the hands of callous criminals.
Despite the numerous gangs killed after being confronted by police while on their way to commit crime or while fleeing from crime scenes, every day police are confronted by new gangs who are prepared to put their lives on the line for a quick buck.
The reasons why many turn to crime are varied, and there can be no doubt that many support their extended family and friends through the proceeds of crime. Police are often subjected to civil claims from the families of criminals who always claim that they were innocent.
Even at scenes of shootings, family members of these criminals turn up and angrily confront the police, even threatening police officers. Not to mention the gun salutes and spinning of tyres that has become the norm as criminals get a hero’s send-off.
Every day police officers put their lives on the line when they confront criminals because criminals do not hesitate to shoot at the police and they would rather die than surrender. Those who walk the streets at night with police officers, as many civilians sleep, know how police officers go the extra mile to keep criminals at bay.
They know that without the thin blue line, there will be absolute anarchy as thugs will rule.
Crime has to be fought through a multidimensional approach, as conventional policing alone will not address the root causes of crime. While government and civil society are addressing these challenges that contribute to many citizens turning to crime, police need to continue arresting those who commit crime.
It will not always be possible for police to predict the targets of every criminal, so citizens also need to be vigilant at all times. Many a criminal has been arrested because of alert citizens that informed police of their suspicious behaviour.
What happened after the news of Sadia’s death reached the community was both unexpected and uncharacteristic of the community of Chatsworth.
Prior to this, the community of Chatsworth received many accolades for its proactive approach towards community policing and for working very closely with law enforcement and holding them to account. Many say that their actions were as a result of the horrendous crime perpetrated against the little girl.
We have a recently concluded case where a court imposed a sentence of imprisonment against an individual who would not accept responsibility for criminal behaviour by virtue of being a victim of crime. The court disagreed with this argument.
Would this mean that little Sadia’s death cannot be used as an excuse for the criminal behaviour witnessed outside the Chatsworth police station in the hours following her death?
The behaviour witnessed outside the Chatsworth Police Station was in stark contrast to the manner in which Sadia’s family carried themselves, even after her death.
Even in a period of extreme grief, they chose to mourn in dignity and called for the community not to be divisive. They even went to the extent of apologising to police for the behaviour of the community who turned on police instead of allowing the police to arrest the remaining perpetrator and bring him to book.
Many leaders in government had to intervene, as community leaders failed to take charge of the community, and mediate. The Minister of Police and MEC for Community Safety met with the community and appealed for calm while they investigate. The community was promised feedback, and it is hoped that those who appealed for action would remain lucid while this investigation was being carried out.
The acting provincial commissioner, Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who spoke to community leaders two days after assuming his new position, reminded the community that the Chatsworth police station and the police officers attached to the police station belonged to them. He explained how this was further re-enforced by the police’s strategy of involving the community when police officers were recruited.
Communities must take ownership of the manpower and resources at their police stations and ensure they are being used effectively in terms of their needs.
The acting provincial commissioner has instructed the management of Chatsworth police station to deploy their police officers more effectively to make sure that there is greater police visibility on the streets and more police operations. He has given police a directive to ensure that criminals not be allowed to move unhindered.
As people move around, they should become accustomed to being stopped and searched while police clamp down on criminality. Those who complain that they are targeted when they commit petty crimes should remember that most violent offenders start of as petty criminals and become bolder if law enforcement does not intervene in the early stages of their criminal career.
Those who complain that police acted too quickly by dispersing the illegal gathering, should also remember that in many instances police were criticised for not acting quick enough to disperse unruly crowds, which led to the loss of property and life.
An impartial investigation into what transpired is welcomed and will hopefully put an end to the strained relations between police and the community in Chatsworth.
Many leaders over this past week reminded the community that if law abiding citizens and law enforcement clash, criminals would celebrate because they stood to benefit from this strained relationship.
Community members protest outside the Chatsworth police station after the death of 9-year-old Sadia Sukhraj.