Mthethwa targets errant police officers

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pretoria - Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa is tightening the noose on police officers who abuse their positions by addressing weakness within the organisation that investigates complaints of criminality and misconduct by police.

The Minister tabled two pieces of legislation in Parliament on Tuesday, aimed at addressing shortcomings within the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD).

Mthethwa, who presented the ICD and the Civil Secretariat for Police Bills to the Portfolio Committee on Police said: "The two pieces of legislation we are tabling today seek to achieve and support our philosophy of an improved, smart, monitored policing as well as a comprehensive oversight of police".

The minister said he was determined to curb any abuse carried out by police on the public.

"To address the historical weaknesses that have plagued the ICD, we are now moving towards a new orientation, which is, a legislative, monitoring and well-oiled machinery of police," he added.

Mthethwa warned that if police powers were unchecked they could easily be abused and the country could slide into a police state.

He added that communities needed to get more involved in policing and this was one of the reasons as part of the proposed legislations, Community Policing Forums would fall under the Secretariat of Police.

One of the problems facing policing was the blurred line of command and control within the Ministry and confusion over the difference between policy and operational issues, Secretary of Police Jenni Irish-Qhoboshean said.

The Secretariat for Police Bill will seek to address this.

"...a need was identified to develop separate legislation which would entrench and enhance the role of the Secretariat for Police. This legislation would address enhancing and empowering the Secretariat to perform its functions with regard to policy development, civilian oversight, accountability and enforcing the Ministry's approach to partnerships," she added.

The Police Ministry said in the past public perception was that the ICD was toothless and lacked powers to effectively investigate cases against police officers.

"The decision to develop separate legislation is based on the need to enhance the independent role of the ICD, to empower the ICD to perform its functions and to refocus its role to ensure that it is able to meet its strategic responsibilities," Francois Beukman, Executive Director of ICD, explained.

The ICD Bill also aims at increasing the conviction rate in crimes against women in which police officers are the alleged perpetrators.

One of the provisions of the Bill is that all rapes in cells, whether the accused is a police officer or a detainee, must be investigated by the ICD.

The Ministry said this was an indication of how serious it was in addressing crimes against women.

Another change is that the monitoring of the SAPS compliance with the Domestic Violence Act and complaints from the public, be removed from the mandate of the ICD and become the responsibility of the Civilian Secretariat and the provincial secretariats.

According to the legislation, cell inspections and evaluations of police stations will fall under the mandate of the Secretariat and not the ICD.