By Annalise Kempen
During the first weekend of October 2017, there was a huge outcry on social media following the spreading of a video showing an incident at a supermarket in Gauteng where security officers assaulted a woman while her crying three-year-old toddler bore witness to her mother's ordeal. There is a similar outcry each time a member of the South African Police Service crosses the line, such as after the Marikana massacre; the Andries Tatane incident and the Mido Macia incident. The question is: is it only incidents that make headlines or cause a social media outcry that result in investigations from the "big guns"? Or is there a way in which we, as members of the community, can get involved when our "law enforcers" cross the line or don't deliver the service they are supposed to?
Background to oversight
Oversight of the police is not a new phenomenon and, according to the Gauteng Department of Community Safety, it can be traced back at least to 1992 when "a convocation of the governing party resolved that 'there will be no respect for institutions that enforce law and order unless the people respect the law. This they will do if the laws are just and if they participate both in their making and enforcement'" (GDCS, 2017).
Section 221 of the Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 200 of 1993 provides for the establishment of community police forums in respect of police stations. Although the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995 was promulgated after the Interim Constitution, it provides for the functions of community police forums and boards in section 22 and refers to section 221(2) of the Interim Constitution which reads as follows (and remains valid):
“(2) The functions of community police forums referred to in subsection (1) may include -
(a) the promotion of accountability of the Service to local communities and cooperation of communities with the Service;
(b) the monitoring of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Service;
(c) advising the Service regarding local policing priorities;
(d) the evaluation of the provision of visible police services, including -
(i) the provision, siting and staffing of police stations;
(ii) the reception and processing of complaints and charges;
(iii) the provision of protective services at gatherings;
(iv) the patrolling of residential and business areas; and
(v) the prosecution of offenders; and
(e) requesting enquiries into policing matters in the locality concerned.”
Section 206 of the (current) Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that the institution that enforces law and order is subject to civilian oversight, and specifically provides provincial governments with a mandate to, among others:
- monitor police conduct;
- oversee the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service; and
- promote good relations between the police and the community.
In line with this constitutional provision, the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995 urges the relevant Member of the Executive Council to call on provincial commissioners of police to establish Community Police Forums (CPFs). In short, these bodies, comprising both civilians and SAPS members, are entrusted to execute key activities aimed at ensuring that people participate both in the identification of crime challenges at local level and the development of strategies to resolve these challenges. Pillar 3 of the National Crime Prevention Strategy, 1996, similarly advocates for meaningful participation of citizens in combating crime. The Civilian Secretariat for Police Act 2 of 2011 reveals the same policy consistency - section 17 of this Act advocates for, among others, the promotion of community police relations and enhancement of community safety structures within each province (GDCS, 2017).
In their publication entitled Handbook on police accountability, oversight and integrity, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2011) makes it clear that "efforts to enhance police oversight and accountability must focus on three key, related priorities". Where policing has been militarised and where it tends to be undemocratic and authoritarian, efforts must be made to enhance civilian control over the police. The second priority is to increase public confidence in the police by upgrading levels of police service delivery as well as by investigating and acting in cases of police misconduct, while the last priority deals with reducing police corruption (UNODC, 2011).