Maverick Citizen

CORRUPTION WATCH

Accountability tool aims to ‘break cycle of impunity in police service’

On Wednesday 17 February, Corruption Watch launched its Veza tool which aims to play a role in strengthening police accountability in South Africa by making information, tools and tips accessible to the general population.

The Veza tool was developed after Corruption Watch won the Google Impact Challenge Award in 2018, tasking South African innovators to come up with a technological tool that would solve a social issue.

Speaking at the launch event were Kavisha Pillay from Corruption Watch, Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security  Studies, and Sekoetlane Phamodi from the Accountability Lab South Africa.

According to Corruption Watch, “Veza, which, loosely translated, means ‘expose’ or ‘reveal’, is designed to empower communities with mechanisms to combat corruption and break the cycle of impunity in the police service.

“Corruption Watch’s engagements with communities across South Africa have also revealed power imbalances between the SAPS and members of the public, and the tool will help to distribute that power more equitably. 

“The Veza tool will enable the public to access budgets, resourcing, locations, and personnel of police stations countrywide. It will also allow the public to rate and review their police stations, commend ethical police officers, and access information about their rights in relation to policing. This tool aims to assist activists, researchers, journalists, and the public at large in demanding better and more  accountable policing in South Africa.”

It uses geolocation to show all South Africa’s 1,150 police stations, allows you to rate individual stations, and access how the national budget of R9.9-billion is allocated. It shows available resources like cars and the size of the population each station serves, among many other features.

The tool allows for a comparison of stations, showing how some police stations are disadvantaged in terms of budget allocation and resources, particularly in vulnerable communities.

The tool teaches members of the public about their rights when interacting with police officers, such as during an arrest, roadblock, or when asked for bribes, and what constitutes an abuse of power.

Corruption Watch said the tool provides an opportunity for other government departments to embrace the concept of open data and access to information. It also allows the public to report and acknowledge good service from the police. Inspiration for the development of the tool was drawn from Brazil, India and the US.

Speaking at the launch, Pillay said the tool would be helpful because members of the public were not always aware of their rights. This, she said, made them vulnerable to the abuse of power by the police.

Pillay emphasised that open, accessible and credible data are essential in the fight against corruption and this is what the tool aimed to provide.

Newham said while police institutions around the world tended to be typically closed when it came to information sharing, “One of the big challenges that stands in the way of police and community relations is the lack of informational knowledge.”

He said police organisations worldwide are typically closed and averse to the public criticising them, something Newham said he could understand as police work is difficult.

However, he said the police cannot be effective and improve public safety unless they are transparent and have a good relationship with partners in civil society.

“This really is one of the key tools that we believe will be able to support citizens as well as police officers to start closing the feedback loop with one another in order to start solving the problems that they are facing at a local level around what issues are emerging, what are the norms… and trends that are emerging… around police corruption, police misconduct, but also… to really start emphasising and ‘naming and faming’… instances and occurrences of good social norms and good conduct amongst police officers,” said Phamodi.

He said it was often only a few police officers who conduct themselves badly or are involved in corruption and that there are good people in the service who the public should support.

Phamodi said the tool would hopefully create a pipeline to connect the Accountability Lab’s Integrity Icons initiative where police could be nominated for good and ethical work. DM/MC

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