Police respond to Human Rights Watch report

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pretoria - The Ministry of Police says the Human Rights Watch 2014 World Report was “generalising and subjective” in its assessment of the country’s police.

The report issued a "warning" to the South African government, that human rights in the country were taking a turn for the worse.

Human Rights Watch cited escalating police violence as the main reasons for the regression and raised serious concerns with the police's use of excessive force, especially in an election year, during which the organisation expects to see more community protests.

Police ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi on Tuesday, however, said that “each public protest takes a different dynamic, whether peaceful or violent”. 

“This Human Rights Watch [report] unfortunately somehow depicts an impression that the South African Police Service (SAPS) responds to all public protests with the same approach and operational plan, thus creating a false assertion that all members of the SAPS are brutal.”

Mnisi said as the ministry, they also get concerned when they hear about reports of police who abuse their powers. 

“We are equally concerned when we hear about police officers who are killed while responding to crime callouts,” said Mnisi.

These concerns, he said, have prompted the system to make fundamental changes, such as improving training so that all new entry level police members undergo basic crowd management training as part of their curriculum.

Since this process was initiated in April 2012, 1 761 Public Order Policing (POP) operational members have successfully undergone refresher training, while 2 340 operational members will still undergo this training.  

This is primarily to establish an understanding of crowd management in all SAPS members, which will facilitate joint operations with other SAPS components and POP members. 

Mnisi said during the last financial year, 12 399 crowd-related incidents were responded to and successfully stabilised, including 10 517 peaceful incidents such as assemblies, gatherings and meetings. 

Of these incidents, 1 882 were violent incidents and 3 680 arrests were effected. 

“As we have seen on many occasions, many protests have been accompanied by serious provocations, intimidations, public violence and even elements of criminality,” Mnisi said.

According to Mnisi, when police arrest perpetrators at the scene, usually no one claims responsibility for the actions, making the investigations very difficult -- particularly in securing convictions in courts.

Another challenge, Mnisi said, was that policing of public protests draws the police away from their normal policing activities and forces the police to redirect resources, which can lead to gaps in normal policing.

He added that the organisers must face criminal charges if the protests were not orderly and peaceful.

“There is no prevalent culture of impunity within the police service.  We are a caring government and therefore, there is no carte blanche that we give to our officers to kill innocent people who protest,” he said.

Mnisi acknowledged that the force had rotten apples and South Africa was not an exception.

“However, the rotten apples are dealt with in terms of the relevant prescripts and applicable legislation.”

He urged stakeholders such as Human Rights Watch to provide an objective analysis of policing and further engage in ensuring that people in South Africa, are and feel safe. - SAnews.gov.za

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