Opinionista Solomon Makgale 2 February 2015

Spare a thought for the toiling police officers

Our police officers work around the shadow of death every day. But despite their determination to rid our streets of criminals and lawless elements, they are shown very little appreciation and respect.

Police officers are given little recognition, and the pay is not that great either. Some of them end up selling their souls to criminal scumbags. Eager to make money, they join the criminal underworld. The only difference is that they carry a firearm, wear the blue uniform and the gold badge.

This is difficult and frustrating for the many who just want to do their jobs as best as they can under trying circumstances, but are painted with the same brush – a brush that is dripping with the blood of the innocent and tears of the weak.

The frustration and shame carried by the many police officers who are not crooked, based on the actions of a few, rang louder this week following the so-called research findings by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR).

In exchange for funds from AfriForum, an organisation still struggling to come to terms with a post-1994 South Africa, the SAIRR disgraced themselves by producing political commentary to suit the views of their funder. This political commentary is contained in a policy paper entitled ‘Broken Blue Line 2’.

We are told that some 100 cases were selected from media reports and analysed. On that basis, a conclusion was reached that every police officer you come across is likely to rape, murder or rob you.

Blistering, condescending side commentary loaded with racial and sexist undertones from AfriForum was reserved for the National Commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, personally attacking her integrity.

I recognise that some are cynical about police work and that there are mixed sentiments about the value of the work of the police. I also recognise that occasionally some rules of proper conduct are violated by those who are sworn to protect and serve.

Without condoning any misdemeanours by police officers, I have been challenged to find any profession where someone within that profession has not abused his or her power at some point. Ethical violations are found among companies and organisations and, yes, even the police.

Equally, without absolving General Phiyega from taking accountability for deeds within the police service, both good and bad, within the paper she is said to be the one who is making the situation of police criminality worse. In fact, close reading of some of the commentary in the report would lead you to believe that she personally introduced criminality in policing. Nothing can be further from the truth.

SAIRR should not have played hide and seek with the SAPS. They could have simply requested input from the SAPS about efforts to get rid of the rotten apples. Had they perused disciplinary records, dockets, disciplinary policies and procedures and other relevant data, they would probably have come to a different conclusion.

The days of those who still work hard to protect and serve are still here.

Police work is a calling, and you know going in you are never going to get rich and many personal sacrifices will be made. It is a thankless job.

Amongst the 200,000 officers, there are many whose character is above reproach. They promote law enforcement and demonstrate professionalism, are unselfish, freely bestowing love and caring and serving with overwhelming humanity.

True, there are law enforcement personnel who are arrested and charged with a series of serious crimes. For example, 777 police officers have been found guilty of various crimes and subsequently dismissed during the past 18 months. Also, had it not been for the labour court stopping us, as a result of action by the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, we would have made good progress in addressing the 1,448 who are currently serving the police even though they have criminal records.

Therefore, for the SAIRR to simply generalise and paint police officers as criminals and call for the resignation of Police Commissioner General Riyah Phiyega is not only a generalisation, but malicious at the height of political expediency.

The truth is, there are good cops with calming and friendly demeanour, unyielding men and women who simply believe what is right is right.

Instead of demonising our men and women in blue, we should acknowledge the outstanding contribution of many of them in the fight against crime. Yes, of course we must condemn the bent cops, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We must thank these patriotic men and women and ask them to work even harder to rid our society of the scourge of crime.

Lest we forget that while most enjoy the relative security of our homes and the comfort of our beds, police officers brave all kinds of danger to ensure our safety. It would boost morale within our police agency to get the occasional pat on the back.

What are the real facts about our men in blue? Every day, law enforcement officers are exposed to opportunities wherein they can choose to take the high road or the low road. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers choose the high road. They know that taking the low road is just not worth it.

Indeed, being a police officer is a heavy burden to bear, but it is a burden we accept willingly. Training and serving officers are constantly cautioned to do the right thing all the time, whether someone is watching or not.

We reject the SAIRR findings. We want to assure the public that the majority of our officers and staff are hard-working, conscientious, dedicated and honest people, with the best intentions in mind while serving the rainbow nation.

Unfortunately, it takes flimsy reports from organisations such as the SAIRR to further erode the public’s trust that we ask for each and every day. General Phiyega and her management team does not tolerate, condone, accept or protect, in any instance, any wrongdoing by any law enforcement officer. Officers are supposed to lead by example, not do as they want, when they want at the expense of the public.

We are entrusted by every person in this country to protect life and property, to enforce the laws of our nation, and to be the buffer between each South African and the criminal element.

I encourage every South African to continue to be our eyes and ears, even if it means telling what you know about any criminal acts perpetrated by any law enforcement officer.

Remember, someone, somewhere, somehow knows something about crime in their area. Play your part, anonymously report crime and criminal cops on 0860010111. DM

Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale is Head of Corporate Communications at the South African Police Service.


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