The Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) plays an invaluable role in assisting the South African Police Service (SAPS) in maintaining law and order in our city, and should be an organisation in which we can trust and take pride in. That is why last weekend’s media reports that an officer from the JMPD stopped BBC Test Match commentator, Jonathan Agnew, driving without an international licence was so damaging to the Department’s and Johannesburg’s image. It is alleged that after the officer threatened Agnew with handcuffs and a visit to the local police station, he and his two fellow passengers had to empty their pockets to “convince” the officer to let them off. Agnew denies paying a bribe, and the officer, apparently, let him keep R20. While we are sadly familiar with such reports of corruption in our local press, now the reputation of the JMPD has been compromised on an international level. Not only does this diminish our trust in the JMPD, but it damages the reputation of a global city like Johannesburg.
Global cities – like countries – thrive on “soft power”; the power to attract. Successful metropoles are those that have the best story to tell. Every study shows that investment, trade flows, and commerce thrives in safe environments, where the law is supreme and applied impartially. A police service that provides this safe environment through honest work directly contributes to the economic growth of a city. Poor people suffer the most from reduced economic growth, as resources are diverted from social grants, and jobs dry up. What is the scale of the problem? It’s hard to tell because we don’t know how many bribes – also known as “shake-downs”, “cold drink money”, or “lunch” money – and acts of corruption go undetected.
In 2013, anti-corruption watchdog Corruption Watch produced a “JMPD bribe hot-spot map”, using Google Maps to identify areas where motorists were most likely to be asked to pay a bribe. Sandton was first, followed by Fourways, Dainfern and Midrand. Corruption Watch tells us 184 out of 2,600 officers at the JMPD were probed for corruption from 2009 to 2011. That’s just over 7% of the department. What is particularly rotten about this is that there is a two-tier justice system: wealthier citizens can evade a criminal record or prosecution (ironically through bribery, which is breaking the law), while poorer citizens will more likely be prosecuted. Then there is the loss of municipal revenue when bribes are substituted for fines from speeding tickets and other traffic violation that are not issued. What is to be done?
One way that the DA proposes to cut corruption is by establishing an Integrity and Internal Investigations Unit within the JMPD. The Unit will serve as a fast-track internal disciplinary system, and will pursue criminal charges against corrupt officers through the criminal justice system. The Unit would be directly accountable to the Mayor, and to the Section 79 Committees – Public Safety and Transport – in the Metro Council in open sittings. In this way, the public can hold the JMPD directly to account for corruption.
We also need to learn from international best practice and what has been proven to work. William Bratton, Commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) from 1994 to 1996, famously presided over a dramatic decline in the city’s crime rate. Bratton embraced the “broken windows” theory: when a building window is broken and left unrepaired, the rest of the windows will soon be broken too. As mayor of Johannesburg, I will be developing this theory, and its application to our war on drugs, and our fight against crime in forthcoming DM columns, because “broken windows” cannot be viewed in isolation.
According to the Yale School of Management, one of Bratton’s most important changes at the NYPD was to make police corruption an open topic of conversation. We all know that our civil service has been a victim of cadre deployment by the ANC – what Helen Zille calls the ANC’s “state capture” project. This involves a “big man” leader, extending his power by deploying loyalists to control all state institutions in order to put the leader’s interests ahead of the people’s interests. To counter “big man” leaders in New York City, commanding officers were given as much information as they needed about internal corruption investigations in their districts. If we replicate this approach in the JMPD, senior officers would have to work to root out corruption among their peers. I would also push for the introduction of police body and vehicle dashboard cameras, and ghost cars. Such devices are being introduced and trialled throughout the world, and help make the police more accountable. A study in California reported a 50% reduction in police violence, while a trial with the London Metropolitan Police Service found that officers felt more confident in their duties, and that evidence gathered resulted in efficient trials and speedier justice.
In my candidate acceptance speech, I said that, if elected, in the first 100 days I would instil a new culture of respect that we are here only to serve the people of Johannesburg, and not ourselves. I want city officials to be proud of being in service, and I will be seeking a new partnership between the Mayor and the JMPD. Let me be clear here. I know that the JMPD shares organisational culture similarities with police forces across the world. This is not an exercise in bashing the JMPD. My goal is to make the JMPD a trusted and respected police service which creates a safe environment for all.
The Institute of Security Studies has highlighted extensive cultural traits that are found in police agencies across the developed and developing world: group solidarity; suspicion of outsiders; and a code of silence that “cocoons” information within a unit – the so-called “thin blue line”. Unfolding from this, we need to protect whistle-blowers. Many whistle-blowers fear that their evidence will not be treated in confidence. The whistle-blower must not become the hunted.
I am inspired by the words of Bratton, who wanted to change the culture of the NYPD where the objectives was “to develop in police officers the internal constraints that would have them make the right decisions not out of the fragile fear of being caught, but out of deep respect for themselves and the NYPD.” And so the NYPD live up to being “New York’s Finest”.
As we seek to strengthen institutions that fight corruption, we – the citizens of Johannesburg and South Africa – also need to make rooting out corruption part of the daily routine of our lives. This means having the courage not to turn a blind eye if we are witness to an act of police corruption – no matter how small or even if the bribed is a neighbour or friend. Will you join me in this undertaking? DM
Herman Mashaba is the Mayoral Candidate for Johannesburg