National police commissioner General Kehla Sitole has acknowledged that police corruption has become increasingly topical following the numerous reports of employees’ involvement in criminal activities.
In a presentation to parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday 3 (November), the commissioner said that the wide perception of police corruption negatively undermines the entire policing fraternity.
Sitole said that institutions such as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI or the Hawks), Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), National Anti-Corruption Unit (Detective Services) and Investigative Directorate (ID) have been established to investigate corrupt activities, including activities by SAPS employees.
He said that these bodies are probing 397 cases involving the police, with over 257 officers already arrested in cases related to corruption.
Sitole said that as soon as the SAPS is informed of allegations of corrupt activities, the necessary disciplinary proceedings are immediately initiated,
The most common types of corruption cases include contravention of the Disaster Management Act, taking bribes, defeating the ends of justice, aiding an escapee, extortion, fraud etc.
Disciplinary proceedings have been instituted against these employees and some of them have been suspended from the service as a precautionary measure. Of the 286 cases reported since 1 April 2020, a total of 216 have been finalised, it said.
The 286 cases were further broken down as follows:
- Disaster Management Act- related cases: 136
- Aiding an Escapee: 14
- Defeating the ends of justice: 38
- Fraud: 8
- Theft: 55
- Extortion: 35
High profile cases are cases of high priority which involve senior managers and cases that the management prioritised due to media attention, the SAPS said.
As of 1 April 2020 to date, the SAPS said that 79 employees have been involved in these case and 25 disciplinary proceedings have been finalised.
The SAPS also pointed to specific cases which were currently under investigation including:
- The ‘Blue Lights’ case which saw former acting police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane arrested following an investigation into an R86 million blue lights tender;
- Fraud related to software firm Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) which provides police with hardware and infrastructure used in forensic investigations;
- Irregularities surrounding a Telkom tender.
Police corruption more common
A September report by civil society group Corruption Watch found that the SAPS is consistently one of the most complained about institutions in South Africa.
For the second consecutive year, this focus area, at 13%, leads in terms of complaints received, Corruption Watch said.
“Whistle-blowers express their despondency and consternation with the police service in an assortment of allegations, which principally highlight the brutality, inconsiderateness and inhumanness toward the public, and lack of regard for law and order that officials and officers display.”
Corruption Watch said that bribery allegations account for 31% of police corruption cases, as officers solicit bribes from suspects and victims of crimes alike, and sometimes from small businesses as well as ordinary members of the public.
These demands for bribes are to allow alleged criminals, generally drug dealers, to operate with impunity or to ‘make dockets disappear’, it said.
The group said that small businesses, mostly informal traders, have their goods confiscated only to have them returned should the owners be willing to pay whatever amount of money is asked for.
In other instances, should a public member wish to remain unbothered and hassle-free, officers allude to the fact that they have the power and means to make a person’s life ‘very difficult’ should he or she be unwilling to co-operate i.e. to part with their money.
Such cases were common during the lockdown period, Corruption Watch said.
During this time, in a few incidents from the SAPS corruption cases received, it was alleged that officers would conduct random stop-searches and raids where people who complied with the regulations were told that they must pay a fee to ensure the security of their belongings and to avoid arrest.
This kind of behaviour also manifested itself in the 29% of allegations relating to abuse of power. In these cases, where bribery was not evident, the information that Corruption Watch received pointed at officers subjecting members of the public to merciless beatings.
“We are informed that such sporadic acts of violence occurred when the officers accused persons of not complying with lockdown rules and regulations. Ironically, other abuses of power that the police are said to have committed involve the selling of banned goods, mostly alcohol and cigarettes, and allowing unauthorised businesses to trade during the very same period,” it said.