Body cameras for police back on the cards in South Africa

 ·21 Aug 2023

Members of parliament (MPs) have called for all police officers to wear body cameras in South Africa following the assault on civilians on the N1 highway last month.

National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola, Police Minister Bheki Cele, and the Independent Police Investigating Directorate (Ipid) were before parliament’s police portfolio committee On Wednesday (16 August) to discuss the incident that has caused public outrage, reported EWN.

Last month, video footage circulated showing a group of motorists being assaulted and threatened with weapons on the N1 in Johannesburg by VIP protection service members of Deputy President Paul Mashateile.

MPs have questioned how many similar incidents go undetected because they are not captured on camera – bringing the years-old debate about body cameras back into the spotlight.

Masemola told the committee that getting officers fitted with cameras was on the South African Police Service (SAPS)’s radar. However, these words have been cited for years amid growing demand for greater police accountability.

The argument for using police body cameras first gained momentum in South Africa following the Maikana massacre, where SAPS was accused of opening fire on a crowd of striking mineworkers at Marikana – killing 34 mineworkers.

Following deteriorating trust in the SAPS by South African citizens, a Department of Police spokesperson told BusinessTech in 2019 that the body cameras are on the agenda of the SAPS’ top management. However, due to legality and funding issues, not a single body camera has been issued or used by the SAPS.

National Police Commissioner, Fannie Masemola

Masemola said in the committee meeting last week, however, that “the dispute over the legality of police officers wearing body cameras had been ironed out”.

We are compiling specs, and we are going to buy them. It’s on our radar. It’s one of those things we are going to start implementing,” he added, but the leading opposition party – the Democratic Alliance (DA) – is not convinced.

“In 2019, SAPS announced its intention to roll out body cameras. Four years later, in May 2023, Minister Cele said that “body-worn cameras are being prioritised”,” noted the DA.

“In the committee meeting, SAPS again committed to implementing body cams but would not say by when. To date, not a single body-worn camera has been procured or deployed by the SAPS since they were first announced in 2019,” the party added.

“Transparency is key to ensuring accountability. The DA believes that body-worn cameras would significantly enhance transparency and curb police brutality.”

A study conducted involving the random assignment of body cameras to half of the 54 patrol officers in Rialto, California, showed that shifts without cameras experienced twice as many incidents of use of force as shifts with cameras.

It also highlighted that the rate of use of force incidents per 1000 contacts was reduced by 2.5 times.

Read: Massive corruption trial in South Africa to kick off soon

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