The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) is enraged by the latest attack on the Badplaas SAPS station, which took place in the early hours of yesterday morning, where an R5 rifle with 30 rounds in magazine, two 9mm pistols with 30 rounds and an undisclosed amount of cash were stolen.
This brazen attack takes place at a time when many criminal elements are aware of the many internal challenges faced by our many police stations in township and rural areas, which include understaffing and the lack of sufficient resources in servicing communities, and therefore resulting in fueled tensions between the two.
At the time of this attack, only five police officers were on duty, and out of those, two were on patrol. For an area with a population of almost 30 000 residents, this is not only ridiculous, but as well puts at risk the lives of the officers, and generates a misinformed narrative that police are failing to address the crime situation within communities, while in reality, they are incapacitated.
In another incident, an Eastern Cape woman was gunned down inside the Madeira police station in the Eastern Cape last week when a gunman opened fire, demonstrating the extent to which our stations are becoming unsafe by the day.
Police are often blamed for failing to service communities, while in reality; their deteriorating working conditions have been overlooked.
It should be pointed out that police too are human, family men and women whom on a daily basis leave the comfort of their homes without any guarantees of coming back home alive; all with the aim of keeping South Africans safe.
Another problem has been the fact that even Members of Parliament, who are responsible for drafting laws that govern how police operate, have seldom been at the forefront of attacking police for upholding the very laws.
It is demeaning to their selfless efforts when public figures and Members of Parliament like the EFF leader Julius Malema can at will seek to impress his followers by hurling insults at these strained, selfless men and women in blue.
Such utterances have not only demoralized many, but potentially encourage the undermining and disrespect for law enforcement officers in general. If left unchallenged and not directly confronted, it will perpetuate negative attitudes with dire consequences that normalize brutalising our officers.
Leading towards the fatal eNgqobo police killings two years ago, where seven police officers lost their lives, party as a result of management delays in addressing security concerns in police stations across the country, there had been a trend in robberies at police stations.
Immediately after his appointment as Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele also made a commitment to ensure these eventualities never happen again.
For us, this should not just be in the form of words, but in deeds.
These attacks are also largely remnants of an increasingly unequal society, with growing unemployment, yet with a growing economy that has demonstrated to benefit a small percentage of the population.
Under such circumstances, there has been a heavy reliance on policing as a way of curbing criminal activities that have marred our country, and this has proven to be a heavy burden not only on police, but on the fight against crime since they are under-resourced and limited, with our correctional centres overcrowded and a rate of over 85% of those released reoffending due to the lack of skills and job opportunities to sustain themselves.
The police ministry had given itself until 2019 to transform the SAPS and address the working conditions and defects within the policing system, but thus far, not much has materialised.
POPCRU's long-held calls for the restructuring of the SAPS intended to address a duplication of functions, weak command and control, and poor service delivery at police station level. For us, the process of restructuring is informed by the need to improve conditions for the service provided, with its goals being to ensure improved productivity and morale, increased organisational effectiveness and efficiency.
We believe that through these fundamentals, the improvement and functioning of different components can easily complement each other in the best interest of serving our people.
In the immediate, the SAPS needs to address the uneven allocation of resources, so as to ensure rural and township police stations are well resourced and capacitated to improve on service delivery to surrounding communities. This will also go a long way in changing the current perceptions around the role of policing.
There is an urgent need to build the number of required police stations and capacitate them with requisite human and other resources in line with the determined ratios.
The SAPS needs to strengthen police stations that lack resources and ensure they are led by competitive managers. This will enhance effective policing in line with the prescribed ratios.
It is through the restructuring of the SAPS that we can find long-term solutions in curbing the internal challenges that have for years hindered on service delivery, and by addressing these, we will be better placed in ensuring heinous crimes such as police killings are curbed and the establishment of good working relations with our communities are enforced.
We call upon political leaders and public figures to resist the temptation of trying to please their followers through the use of insults on police, but rather to urge social partnerships in confronting whatever griefs they might have. After all, policing isn't solely police the issue, but a collective societal matter.