Thursday, January 29, 2015

Police Procedural - Broken Blue Line

Just about exactly four years ago the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) released a report called Broken Blue Line.  The report documented the involvement of members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in serious crime.  A variety of recommendations were made and there was some uptake of these by the authorities.

Yesterday the IRR and sponsor AfriForum released a follow-up report - titled Broken Blue Line 2 – to assess how the situation had changed over the last four years.  The murder rate in South Africa over that period has actually dropped by about 50%, but violent crime has greatly increased, so the background was not encouraging and neither were the findings of the report.

The report is not concerned with corruption - police taking bribes for turning a blind eye or the like – the report is concerned with the involvement of police officers in serious, mainly violent, crime.  One would hope that no incidents of this type would be identified.  (A somewhat cursory search of reports concerning the London Metropolitan police turned up zero reports of criminal activity of this nature.)  In the case of the SAPS, reports of 100 such incidents were collected in a relatively short time (a few weeks). The authors of the report claim that several hundred more instances could be discovered if more time had been allocated to the search.  The hope that real progress had been made since 2011 was rapidly dashed.

Of the 100 incidents written up, 32 related to murders or attempted murders, 22 related to armed robberies, 26 related to rapes, and another 20 related to thefts, robberies and torture.  (Some years ago, my stepmother called the police after she had been violently robbed and assaulted.  During the police investigation, her handbag was stolen. This level of pilfering would not have been regarded as serious enough to make the list of police criminal activities.)

Good guys or bad guys?
The report points out that it is to “the credit of the police, that many of these cases only entered the public domain because the police reported having arrested a suspect or suspects who happened to be police officers. This is a very good thing and we certainly came across more evidence of such arrests than in 2011. However, that is about as far as the silver lining extends…” The question is, how many more cases are out there that were never followed up or never even reported?  There are documented cases of police committing armed robberies in uniform with police service weapons!  The point is to persuade the victims that there is really no point in reporting the attack.  There is also evidence of police “clones”: criminal gangs dressed as police in police vehicles.  It is easy to see how this might help them with their dirty work.  However, the report suggests that this sort of activity could hardly take place without the involvement of some policemen.  As they put it, the criminals have infiltrated the police rather than the other way around.

 Broken Blue Line quotes some pretty unsettling statistics including that nearly 1500 serving police officers - more than 1% - have been convicted of a crime ranging from assault, through rape, to murder.  Again, one has to wonder how many have not been convicted.

The SAPS management reaction has been vitriolic. Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said the report had been released with “malicious intent” and complained that her picture had been used on the report without her permission.  "I didn't invent crime," she reportedly said.  The methodology and statistics were challenged.  So far, however, there has been no unequivocal denial that there is a structural problem within the SAPS.

It seems only fair to consider the possible bias of the authors of the report.  AfriForum is a pretty conservative and almost pure white, Afrikaans based, organization that describes itself in these terms:
AfriForum works to ensure that the basic prerequisites for the existence of Afrikaners are met, by acting as a credible Afrikaner interest organisation and civil rights watchdog – as part of the Solidarity Movement – outside the workplace on national and local level to handle the impact of the current political realities facing Afrikaners, and to influence those realities, while working simultaneously to establish sustainable structures through which Afrikaners are able to ensure their own future.

However, although AfriForum funded it, the report was written by the Institute of Race Relations. IRR has been around since 1933 and makes the justified claim that:

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the IRR emerged as the leading anti-apartheid think-tank as it used its formidable policy expertise to undermine the ideas underpinning that system and propose a workable alternative South Africa. It has believed throughout its history, as it does today, that a secure and peaceful future can be built only on the principle of one South African nation of different racial and ethnic groups, each allowed to maintain its own cultural identity, all united in a common loyalty, but all tolerant of diversity and dissent.

Frans Cronje, one of the authors. The others were Thuthukani Ndebele & John Kane Berman 

IRR is a respected institution in South Africa, albeit one which is accused of talking when more proactive action was needed in the apartheid years. A report from the IRR cannot be dismissed simply as ‘malicious’.

Broken Blue Line 2 puts forward some proposals for consideration.  Most are similar to those of 2011 but updated. They focus on raising the standard and respect for police management by requiring better levels of education, depoliticising the appointment of senior officers, and decentralising appointments.  On the flip side they recommend more teeth for the Independent Police Investigation Directorate  and an external agency within the Department of Justice.

The report concludes that “The good news is that there are policy solutions available. We are not therefore dealing with a problem that cannot be solved. Rather it is a question of whether the government has the courage to implement these solutions. Each of the solutions we propose are entirely within the powers of the government to implement.”

We will wait and see.

Michael - Thursday


  1. Very interesting and also discouraging. The solution is there but will it be implemented? Perhaps various countries can enter a context to see which one tolerates corruption the most.

  2. All I can think to say, Michael, is wow. That is the sort of report that either fires a society into action or incinerates it. We shall see for sure.

  3. Barbara, the issue is we are not talking corruption here. We are talking full blown criminals. Maybe we can have a contest for that!

  4. In apartheid days the police storm troopers committed crimes against blacks with government support. Now, it seems that some of the current police force is committing crimes against everybody. The way to stop it seems clear. I hope it happens before it gets so entrenched it will be impossible to cut it out. What a cancer on society!