Beyond Good Cop/Bad Cop: Future-proofing South Africa’s police service

Are South Africans getting the police that they deserve? This was at the heart of the discussions held at a round table yesterday, looking at building a police service in line with the country’s driving-development strategy, the National Development Plan.

On 1st April, the Wits Justice Project, together with Wits Public Safety Programme at the Wits School of Governance, hosted “Beyond Good Cop/Bad Cop: Future-proofing South Africa’s police service,” the first installment in the “Justice for Breakfast Round table” discussion series for 2015.

The Justice for Breakfast series aims to foster open, face-to-face interactions in confidential environment, in an effort to understand some of the key challenges in the criminal justice system as well as finding possible solutions to those issues. In attendance yesterday were representatives from various organizations, including Amnesty International, the Helen Suzman Foundation, the RAITH foundation, local and national government departments, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, the South Africa Human Rights Commission and Institute for Security Studies (ISS), delegates from the Swiss Embassy and the European Union.


Participants having breakfast while at Justice for Breakfast round table discussions.

This discussion focused on the future of South African Police Services’ (SAPS) training and ability to police in the communities that they serve – in light of Vision 2030. The National Development Plan (NDP) offers a long-term perspective to government’s plan. It defines a desired target and identifies the role different sectors of society need to play in reaching that goal. Outcomes three of the NDP states with the objective of all South Africans being and feeling safe: and provides for detailed areas of work and responsibilities, which falls in the mandate set out for SAPS in the NDP.

Col. Dale Hynd from SAPS’ Human Resources Directorate kicked off the discussion by giving an overview of the Basic Training Programme for all new recruits. The training is being revised to be in line with the NDP and to professionalise the police services, enabling officers to help maintain safe communities.

Col. Hynd reminded the participants that the reality for SAPS officers is that they work in a violent society. Police training, therefore, has to take into account how to react in a dangerous situation. Although officers are given training on Constitutional and ethical principles, being able to apply these principles when facing life-threatening or violent circumstances is sometimes very difficult.

Police have to complete six modules of the Basic Training Programme which include the following modules:

  • Orientation to SAPS
  • Law
  • Community Service Centre
  • Crime Investigation
  • Crime Prevention
  • Street Survival

A proportion of the training time is spent at the police academy and some time in real-life training at police stations. After the training is completed, the trainees complete integrated assessment tests before they are deemed to be qualified.

Col. Hynd said that the SAPS is currently engaging with stakeholders in its review process, asking for input into what its training programme should contain.

Catherine Moat (Head: Public Safety Programme at Wits School of Governance) and Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi (Project Coordinator at Wits Justice Project) welcomed those in attendance and introduced the first series of Justice for Breakfast 2015.

Catherine Moat (Head: Public Safety Programme at Wits School of Governance) and Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi (Project Coordinator at Wits Justice Project) welcomed those in attendance and introduced the first series of Justice for Breakfast 2015.

Some attendees observed that SAPS should carry out meaningful background checks on new recruits; find ways to ensure that new recruits are not picking up bad practices from the station component of their training; and to remove officers who are not fit.

Others inquired as to whether cyber security was being tackled by SAPS; whether militarization was heading into the wrong direction; and whether SAPS was being used to target the poor. Everyone agreed that community trust was an issue.

In terms of the working conditions of officers, discussions centered on the psychological and emotional stress that police officers face, both from within the SAPS and from hostile communities where they work. Participants agreed that officers should feel supported in carrying out their tasks and that both individuals and communities bear a responsibility for ensuring that this is so.

One participant raised the point that civil society needs to work on preparing safe communities – and not expecting the SAPS to prevent crime on its own. SAPS cannot be expected to fix social problems such as violence, domestic violence, or corruption, as these would have to be dealt with through education, healthcare, and social welfare.

Another discussant said that each individual bears the responsibility of obeying laws and upholding the rule of law, especially through not offering bribes.

Previous Justice for Breakfasts 

Justice for Breakfast: Reflections on the complexities of policing in South Africa today

Justice for Breakfast Round table Discussions

Anthology of the Justice for Breakfast Round table Debates 2012 and 2013

Read more about policing in previous articles by the Wits Justice Project (WJP):

The state of policing in South Africa (info-graphics), May 24, 2013

Articles from Sophiatown team investigation in 2014 

Drug dealers, corrupt cops and the one man who cares

The police also live here…


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

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