Notes from Gareth Newham’s presentation: Exploring Police Abuses and Performance in South Africa

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KYLA HERRMANNSEN

The Wits Justice Project are currently attending the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) 4th International Conference: National and International Perspectives on Crime Reduction and Criminal Justice. This morning’s session looked at policing challenges in South Africa, with Mr Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice Division of the ISS talking on the topic of ‘Exploring police abuses and performances in South Africa’. His presentation made use of empirical data which, as the presentation abstract notes, suggests that “the performance of the SAPS in relation to crime combatting has started to deteriorate while concerns with police brutality and corruption have increased.”

Newham noted that there has been a distinct emphasis in recent years on increasing ‘visible policing’. As a result, there has been a 222% increase in the police budget from 2003/2004 to 2013. He noted that this marked increase is far above the yearly inflation rate and is rare world-wide. Newham explained that this concept was a hallmark of the Jackie Selebi era in which it was believed that more police would equal less crime. As a result, the police force has increased in numbers and there are now approximately 160 000 men and women in uniform across South Africa. However, Newham noted that police activities have in no way represented the budgetary increases. He presented a graph which showed that there have been spikes in policing around international events, such as the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Between 2002 and 2012 there was a marked increase in persons and vehicles searched. In fact, over 20 million people were searched last year alone. But, in a study conducted in inner city Johannesburg in 2009, it was revealed that one third of searches involved policemen looking for bribes.

“There is a danger in mass arrests”, said Newham. He noted that since 2008 arrests have increased substantially by 26% while overall crime rates have stabilized. In citing Sherman et al (1997), he warned that while an increase in arrests for petty crimes may decrease crime rates in the short term, it could increase crime long term. “The less respectful police are towards suspects and citizens generally, the less people will comply with the law”, warned Newham. He added, “it’s not what police do, it’s how they do it…style is as important as substance.” He noted the current model sees the police combating crime rather than focusing on preventing it.

Newham concluded in calling for enhanced police integrity. He shared an alarming statistic that only 1% of total cases opened at the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) end in conviction. This means there is a 99% chance police officers under investigation will not be convicted – therefore there is not much of a deterrent. Newham added that between 2001 and 2011 police brutality cases reported to IPID increased by 313%, resulting in an average of 5 cases reported per day. In the 2011/2012 period, SAPS charged 1050 of their own members for corruption related offences.

He noted that there is a problem of police impunity. He revealed that the SAPS performance plan for 2012/2103 does not deal with issues such as brutality, training and poor public perceptions. He praised the National Development Plan and suggested the police take heed of the recommendations therein. Notably, recommendations relating to a need to “professionalize the SAPS”, to recruit seniors transparently and on merit and, importantly, to reward those in SAPS who are doing their jobs particularly well.

Tying well into this theme, Project Coordinator of the Wits Justice Project, Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, wrote an op-ed piece earlier this year entitled ‘Don’t sacrifice human rights to fight crime’. The article first appeared in the Saturday Star and can be read here

The ISS 4th conference continues tomorrow, 22 August. Search for #issconf4 on Twitter to view live tweets and take a look at the ISS website for more information. Slides used in the presentations will be made available on the website over the course of the next few days.

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

One Response to Notes from Gareth Newham’s presentation: Exploring Police Abuses and Performance in South Africa

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