GroundUp (Cape Town)

29 August 2014

South Africa: Khayelitsha Commission - Rift Between Police and Community 'Not Irretrievable'

The commission into policing in Khayelitsha has recommended that in order to restore a good working relationship with the community, the South African Police Services should promise to be respectful, transparent, and perform their duties in a professional manner.

Commissioners Kate O'Regan and Vusi Pikoli found that there is indeed a breakdown in the trust between the community and SAPS in Khayelitsha.

While the commission found that the community no longer has confidence in the police or their ability, the commission believes this breakdown "is not irretrievable", but requires the immediate attention of provincial and national government.

In the report, the commission highlights the findings of a survey they ordered in which 1,800 Khayelitsha residents participated.

It revealed that 41.3% of those people had personally been the victim of a crime in the area in the past year.

"This is a very high rate of victimization. The most common crime being armed robbery, common robbery and gangsterism," say the commissioners.

The survey results suggest that only six in every ten crimes in Khayelitsha were reported. It also found that people, who were employed and lived in formal housing, were more likely to report crimes.

In the survey, 30% of the participants say they do not report crimes because they fear being victimized by the perpetrator and also because they lack of trust in the police.

Those who did report crime say the police response was "poor" or "very poor." Residents describe the police as being "disrespectful and unprofessional" and "never on time".

During the public hearings held earlier this year, the commission heard testimonies from dozens of residents and several expert witnesses which confirmed these findings.

In a bid to understand where the breakdown began, the commission believes Khayelitsha still "bears the burden of its legacy". It was established in the last years of apartheid when rifts between police and residents were cemented with political violence.

It also found that poor socio-economic circumstances and very high levels of crime all create challenges for SAPS to build a relationship with the community of Khayelitsha.

The commission pointed out the institutional culture of the police which includes: unwillingness to admit when officers have acted incorrectly, having a "cowboys don't cry" attitude, a problematic way of interacting with the gay and lesbian community as well as foreign nationals, and understanding police as a service, as opposed to crime fighting.

When considering the role of the Community Policing Forum, the commission found too many people were not even aware of the forum.

The way complaints are dealt with at the level of police stations, province and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate(IPID), also contributes to the poor relationship with the community.

The commission found that the systems to deal with complaints by the public about the police are "not sufficient" to hold officers accountable.

Some foreign nationals consulted by the commission complained of secondary victimisation by SAPS, which included theft, malicious damage to their property, and extortion.

"The evidence suggests that discriminatory behaviour is widespread among members of SAPS in Khayelitsha. SAPS needs to take urgent steps to eradicate these attitudes," says the commission.

The absence of effective systems to limit corruption within the ranks of SAPS and the improper use of force are also contributing factors to the breakdown.

The relationship between the community and police would improve if crime information at station level was readily available; the commision found that the annual release of crime statistics had no effect on the relationship.

The commission believes the trust of the community could be restored if police developed a community policing policy. Police officers and members of the Community Policing Forum should pledge to be respectful to all complainants, have target response times, and process complaints against officers transparently.

Joel Bregman of the Social Justice Coalition says restoring the relationship with the community depends on the police doing the right thing.

"The recommendations also speak to the allocation of resources and the importance of transparency. The commission's suggestion to have an agreement drawn-up between the police and the residents will be a step in the right direction towards holding police accountable for their actions," he says.

Bregman says as much as Khayelitsha police needed to improve their work ethics, it was also the responsibility of the community in return to respect the police and their duties.

"Our experience in the community has been that people want to work with the police. This isn't going to happen overnight. It just takes the act of one policeman to change the perspective and attitudes of a group of residents," he says.

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