In the line of duty

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

On a daily basis, South Africa’s men and women in blue head out into the streets with the aim of making citizens feel safe.

With life as we know it having changed due to the Coronavirus, for the South African Police Service (SAPS) the phrase “to serve and to protect” has been epitomised in a manner not seen in modern history. 

As part of the country’s frontline workers, on 15 March 2020, members of the SAPS were called on to honour their call to serve.

This was ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of an initial 21-day national lockdown. The lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, got underway at midnight on Thursday 26 March 2020.

Reflecting on the time that has passed since the implementation of the lockdown, national SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said police officers have always understood their constitutional duty and mandate.

“When duty calls, it doesn’t matter what the call is. It is a constitutional mandate as well as constitutional obligation for officers to heed that call,” he says, adding that officers will be out there executing whatever duty is necessary in order to ensure that people feel safe.

With government having declared a national state of disaster security forces, including the SAPS, were called on to implement the five-stage lockdown.

“Police officers had to heed that call with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Metro Police Departments and all other law enforcement agencies,” says the veteran with 34 years of experience.

With hours to go until Public Service Month (PSM) wraps up, Naidoo says like all essential service workers, members of the police service burnt the candle at both ends, clocking up to 12 hours a shift.

“Under the circumstances, they have done very well throughout the country. Members had to man road blocks, vehicle checkpoints especially between provincial borders, suburbs and districts to make sure that people are adhering to restrictions,” he tells SAnews.

He commended the deployment of the SANDF as well as the integration of traffic authorities and Metro Police Departments in the policing of lockdown regulations.

“This is what helped us to firstly maintain and sustain the high visibility for as long as we did. This is a lesson we are going to take in terms of integrating resources, both human and physical resources,” he says.

As life carried on under lockdown, SAPS members carried out their duties with over 300 000 people having been arrested for contravening lockdown regulations by late September 2020.

This, he said, could have only been done with officers dedicated to the call of duty.

While the pandemic has claimed the lives thousands, its initial arrival on South African shores, aided in keeping crime rates low. This was due to restrictions placed on movement.

However, he conceded that during this period, opportunistic elements within the service attempted to abuse the badge.

“We had to resort to arrest them and have them prosecuted criminally as well as being dismissed from the service,” he says.

Over 450 police officers have to date been arrested for a number of crimes since the beginning of the lockdown.

“It’s quite a high number for us [but] we are not embarrassed to say that we arrested those officers. We want to show the nation the position we are taking with police officers who transgress the law.

"We had to show our seriousness by arresting our own,” he says of the arrests.

Naidoo says valuable lessons were learnt over the course of the lockdown.

“It was a learning experience. We are planning to go on a crime retreat together with the Police Minister, the National Commissioner as well as SAPS management to engage to see what best practices we can harness from the time of deployment during COVID-19 that helped us reduce crime,” he says.

This as statistics released by the Police Minister Bheki Cele in August 2020 showed that South Africa was a much safer place to live in during the first quarter of 2020/2021.

The first quarter showed major decreases in all crime categories when compared to the same period last year as a result of citizens heeding call to stay at home.

While the mission to keep communities safe continues, Brigadier Naidoo highlights that government is currently implementing the Safer Cities project which aimed at curbing crime.

The project has been piloted in 10 cities across the country with Durban leading the pack.

In Gauteng, the Eyes and Ears (E2) Initiative is being implemented.

E2 is a joint crime fighting initiative between the SAPS, Business Against Crime (BACSA) as well as the Private Security Industry (PSI).

He adds that law enforcement agencies, need to pool resources together so they can achieve the objective of making this country conducive for people to go about their daily business. 

As the race to find a cure for Coronavirus continues and the numbers of those infected continues to rise a total 16 000 officers had tested positive for the virus.

Just over 13 000 had since recovered while 215 have succumbed to COVID-19 related illnesses.

This has been a devastating loss to the SAPS.

“It’s been a devastating loss to us [and] their families, but we have put all measures that we possibly could to make sure that workers are protected against the virus.”

While the battle against Coronavirus wages on, the SAPS continues to prioritise public safety. -