Why Communities Need To Be Empowered To Manage Their Own Security

In 2010, the IRR began to take an interest in media reports about ‘people in police uniforms’ or ‘in vehicles with police markings’ committing serious and violent crimes. There was a great number of these reports, but the police would routinely deny that their members were involved, suggesting instead that such crimes were being committed by ‘fake policemen’. Unconvinced, we decided to investigate what was going on.

Our researchers began to look for examples and case studies of policemen being implicated in committing serious and violent crimes such as rape, robbery, hijacking, and murder. As we worked through the evidence, we were astonished at what we uncovered. Here and there, we came across an example of someone using a probably stolen police uniform to commit a crime, but in the main we could establish that scores of policemen were committing what rank as some of the most serious and violent crimes in the country.

We decided to take just the first 100 cases we came across, conduct an analysis of them, and publish them in the form of a report, focusing on the most violent of crimes. That report, published in February of 2011 as the Broken Blue Line – the Involvement of the South African Police Service in Serious and Violent Crime, demonstrated that:

  • Police officers were routinely committing the most serious of crimes;
  • Those crimes fell within the main categories of armed robbery, rape (especially of women travelling alone at night), and murder (often committed with state-issued firearms);  
  • Such crimes were regularly committed by police officers while on duty, in uniform, in police vehicles, and armed with their police issue firearms;
  • Levels of conviction for police officers suspected of such crimes was very low; and
  • There was no determined effort on the part of the police to deal with the problem.

A typical case might be of police officers on patrol at night stopping a woman travelling alone. They would intimidate her and rape her in the back of their police vehicle. If she tried to report the incident, other officers would show very little interest. If she persisted, they would threaten her with arrest. Or policemen would use their knowledge of the criminal underworld to hijack trucks, rob businesses, or attack families in their homes. We even identified cases where police officers were blowing up ATM machines.

At the time, the IRR received assurances from the police and the Ministry of Safety and Security that they were shocked at what we had uncovered and that action would be taken.

Four years later, in January of 2015, we conducted a similar investigation, published as the report titled Broken Blue Line 2. This document indicated very little change relative to what we had found in 2011. Worse is that we were this time able to establish that nearly one in every 100 serving police officers had been convicted of crimes ranging from murder and rape to robbery and assault. Ahead of its publication, we met with the police commissioner and senior officers in Pretoria. But the commissioner was very hostile and threatened to interdict the report.   

We have now published the third report in the series and, unfortunately, we had little difficulty in once more finding significant evidence of police involvement in crimes ranging from cash-in-transit heists to house robberies, hijackings, rapes and murders. The implications are more serious for the fact that crime and violence levels are rising again, and the state is threatening to further reduce civilian access to firearms and your right to self-defence. At the same time, South Africans are being murdered at a rate of 34 murders for every 100 000 people in the country. We are ten times more likely to be murdered than Americans, and thirty times more likely than Australians. 

We know that the government does not care enough to take this crisis seriously. For that reason, if it is to be addressed it must be addressed by communities themselves. There are three ways that this can be done. The first two are long-term objectives that we have already begun to pursue, while the third is an immediate short-term solution that any community can put in place within days.     

The first is to allow communities to elect their station commanders, or at the very least greatly expand the powers of Community Police Forums to appoint station commanders. That way, the head of your local police station will be directly accountable to your community. If the local police perform poorly, are corrupt, or - worse yet – perpetrate serious and violent crimes, it will be a simple matter for the community to recall the station commander and appoint another. Nor will station commanders necessarily have to be serving police officers. Any sufficiently experienced person with the qualifications to run an organisation could be elected, allowing the community a wide pool of candidates to select from.

The second is to make the private security expenses of households tax deductible. You already pay tax and rightly expect services from the government, including a safe and secure society. No person spends money on private security because they want to. They are forced to do so out of fear and because the service provided by the State is so bad that they have no choice but to pay for private measures to protect their lives, possessions, and families. It is only right and proper that they be compensated for the expense, particularly as that investment does much to create a safer South Africa for all its people.

Until and unless the two objectives, above, are met you will remain at great risk of violent attack, including from the people who should protect you. The best interim solution, our third proposal, is to develop very well-organised and resourced Neighbourhood Watch Schemes that are integrated with private security providers, allowing your community to, in effect, take control of its own security. Later, such structures can be integrated with the police. For the time being, however, such structures offer the best solution to South Africa’s plague of serious and violent crime.  

If you agree with the above endorse our Community Safety Charter.

You can also read our three Broken Blue Line reports here, here, and here.