By Chantelle Benjamin
Researchers into law enforcement are concerned that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), a new police watchdog set to replace the existing Independent Complaints Directorate in April, is not sufficiently resourced or structured to deal effectively with corruption and other crimes.
According to Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), no external agency worldwide has yet proved successful in curbing crime in a police force. Instead, successful anti-corruption efforts require a police culture overhaul.
He believes the internal SAPS Anti-Corruption Unit, disbanded in 2001, was the most effective in curbing corruption and other crimes because it had police cooperation. Both the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and the IPID are external agencies.
On changing police culture, Newham said: “Police management talk of removing ‘rotten apples’, but it is well established that high levels of corruption occur where there is poor leadership and culture, and weak systems of accountability.”
A 2009 ISS study at three Gauteng stations revealed that 85% of police believe corruption to be a serious problem in the SAPS. Since then, former National Police Commissioner Jacqui Selebi has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in jail, and the public protector has questioned current Commissioner Bheki Cele’s involvement in police headquarter lease deals worth R2-billion.
He is currently the subject of a public inquiry.
Newham said police corruption exists in almost all countries at every level. “The culture generally values loyalty over integrity, and no police officer wants to investigate their colleagues.
“There are also a number of challenges to investigating police corruption – little police corruption is reported because both parties are involved in an illegal activity, so most of the time you only hear about a policeman soliciting a bribe when he fails to deliver on his promise.
“Corrupt police officials are also difficult to investigate because they know the system and its weaknesses and are able to cover their tracks.”
Newham said for the IPID to succeed, there has to be a real will among police and government leadership to tackle corruption, sufficient independence given to the directorate and sufficient resources to attract suitably qualified investigators.
In his initial criticism of the soon-to-be-defunct ICD, David Bruce, researcher for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said it was trying to investigate too many cases, with 38 000 in Gauteng alone. He suggested that to counter this the police could conduct investigations themselves.
He also said the public should be able to lodge complaints at a police station. Some of his recommendations were adopted in setting up the IPID.
According to the police ministry, the new directorate will investigate rape, assault, corruption, death in custody and the discharge of firearms.
Complainants will be able to lodge complaints at their police station and the commander of that station will then submit a written report to the provincial directorate. The IPID investigating officer then has 90 days to complete the investigation or submit reasons for the delay.
The national commissioner will be compelled to act on recommendations made by the IPID and will be legally bound to inform the police minister, currently Nathi Mthethwa, on the progress and outcome of these disciplinary procedures.
Newham said while he believes there is a lot of political will to deal with corruption, he believes the IPID is still not sufficiently financially and intellectually resourced, and will have to spend a lot of time and effort training investigators before it can begin to work effectively.
“The problem being dealt with by the IPID is not legislative: there are only 125 investigators dealing with more than 6 000 cases against the police,” he said.
Money has been put aside for about 30 new posts, but Newham said the previous SAPS Anti-Corruption Unit had 250 highly skilled investigators, and at its height in 2000 was investigating 6 480 cases, with 1003 arrests and 171 convictions. In 2001 its capacity was reduced, and the success rate dropped to 487 arrests and 84 convictions.
He believes the ICD was unable to find sufficient evidence on corruption by Selebi because it did not have the required investigative expertise.
He added that leadership will be key. There is a perception that IPID head Francois Beukman, a former member of parliament for the African National Congress and one-time executive director of ICD, could take a bureaucratic approach to leadership.
Former executive director of ICD Karen McKenzie was an aggressive head who still battled to improve performance, Newham said.
He said the ICD was criticised for its poor delivery, but research conducted by the ISS showed that some of the delays occurred at the office of the National Prosecuting Authority. It’s not clear if this had to do with the quality of information the NPA received.
Two strengths of the new agency are that police are now required to report their progress on cases to the minister of police, and that they are under a legal obligation to investigate and accept recommendations from IPID, which they were not required to do under the ICD. This is one of the factors believed to have contributed to the ICD’s failure to make a real dent in the incidence of corruption.
A report on the 2010/2011 year showed that the ICD made 2 261 recommendations to the police service to take disciplinary action against its members, but there were only 90 convictions.
The ICD received 5 869 cases that year, of which 797 related to police deaths in custody or as a result of police action and 2 493 allegations of criminal offences against members by the public.
On a positive note, ICD executive director Francois Beukman said in 2011 that 83% of the investigations into criminality laid against the police were finalised.
Despite concerns expressed by groups like the ISS that the IPID may be starting off with some of the disadvantages that plagued the ICD, the police ministry is optimistic that the new directorate, aided by additional staff, new legislative powers and additional funds, will have sufficient “teeth” and “sting” to discourage corruption and other crimes committed by officers.
Police ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said the ICD had long been accused of having no real power to curb crime among officers, or hold them accountable for actions. “The message the ministry wants to send out with the IPID that if you break the law, you will be punished, whether you are a policeman or not.
“We want to give the IPID all the power it needs to take action against officers who break the law. We want officers to think twice before they commit a crime, because they know that they are going to jail … and if it is murder then it will be life sentence.”