By Lorraine Louw
There is an old saying that you should set a thief to catch a thief. The thing about old sayings is that they often have their origins in truth.
Certainly, independent consultant criminologist Liza Grobler seems to have found it to be the case. Grobler spent three years talking to cops here and abroad researching her PhD thesis, A Criminological Examination of Police Criminality. It makes for interesting, and startling, reading – for example, few of the convicted officers she spoke to cited poor salaries as a factor in their corruption.
Starting out, Grobler is quick to stress that while there is crime and corruption everywhere in the police, the majority of members are the good guys. Sadly, though, the bad cops taint the reputation of the entire force, even though aspects of the system and its management enable corruption. Grobler mentions poor supervision as an issue, for example.
Over the three years, among many other instances of crime, she uncovered massive corruption and links between police and gangs in Cape Town. And it is this information – just four to six pages of a 500-page document – that is getting press coverage. It may also ultimately get something done about the problem as a whole.
Grobler’s primary wish is for a commission of inquiry to be set up in Western Cape. The premier can institute such a commission in the province, although the police is a national competency, if there has been a breakdown in communication between the police and the public – and in this instance, there clearly has been.
Part of her wish has been realised: Premier Helen Zille yesterday announced the appointment of a commission of inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha, and of a breakdown in relations between the community and the police in the area.
“The decision to appoint a Commission of Inquiry has been taken after a protracted period of communication between me and both the stakeholders and the South African Police Service [SAPS]; and after obtaining legal advice,” Zille said.
The move comes after several reports of vigilante violence in the Cape Town township. The premier added: “It is clear that decisive action must be taken to address the numerous complaints – some of which now date back nine months – alleging police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between the Khayelitsha community and the SAPS.”
Grobler’s response is that “it is a good start, but I will continue to push for one for police corruption”.
Her second wish is to see a highly resourced, independent anti-corruption unit set up, but the very word “independent” sets the government on edge. There are several other strategies to deal with the issue, such as integrity testing, surveillance, the London Met’s highly successful Ghost Squad, and simply, officers who have been caught, talking to new recruits as a warning of what could happen.
Grobler spent three years on her research, from 2003 to 2005. She interviewed police, police who had been convicted of crime and were in jail, monitoring groups, civil organisations and other stakeholders, including police researchers from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the Institute for Security Studies, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the National Prosecuting Authority. She opened the scope of her studies to include the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York Police Department, the Independent Police Complaints Commission at the London Metropolitan Police and Australia’s police department.
And she found that South Africa is not unique: police crime happens everywhere. It is just that South Africa does not have effective strategies in place to deal with it. “South African police are reactive, not proactive,” she says. “We need to open the whole thing up, see what is happening and what’s wrong, and fix it.”
In 2006, Grobler was awarded her PhD; she took her findings about the links between the notorious Cape Flats gangs and Cape Town SAPS officers to Leonard Ramatlakane, at the time the Community Safety MEC, and Mzwandile Petros, who was the Western Cape police commissioner at the time. He has since been appointed police commissioner in Gauteng.
“Nothing was done,” she says. “I got no feedback at all. In 2007, there was a brief exposé in the Weekend Argus. I sent a chapter to the police head office, but got no response … You must remember, though, that this was policing in the time of Jackie Selebi.”
Disheartened by the lack of action from the police and hopeful about a new political head, in 2009 Grobler approached Lennit Max, Ramatlakane’s successor. “I sent a chapter to an official in his office, but again nothing happened. Then, in February this year, there was an explosion of gang violence, and I sent a chapter of my work to Dan Plato, the present Community Safety MEC.”
Plato’s office has acknowledged receipt of the information. “He says they have lots of allegations, but the police want evidence before they can act,” she explains. It’s a self-defeating requirement, though – how can a person take proof of police corruption to the very police who are corrupt?
Plato has given his support to the Khayelitsha commission. He also pointed out that he recently launched the Report a Cop, Reward a Cop campaign with the Institute for Security Studies. It promotes effective policing and aims to stamp out police misconduct and corruption.
“This kind of programme can only work with the support of the public. The Western Cape Department of Community Safety promotes a whole of society approach towards improving safety, and believes that safety is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
Indeed, safety is everyone’s responsibility, and it was reports from community members that prompted Grobler to bring attention again to her studies. “[In February] I kept hearing that the community was making these allegations of policemen being involved with the gangs. And [police] management kept saying, ‘Bring us the evidence.’
“But obviously they’re not going to go to the same problematic police station and say ‘You guys are on the payroll.’ Obviously; the communities are terrified. They get victimised by the gangs.
“So I thought, ‘No, I am now going to give you the evidence via the media.’ So I wrote an article for the Cape Times which was published on 25 July. And then it just caught fire. So it took six years.”
Other media picked up on the story, such as The Times and News24. “I have to defend Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer [the Western Cape police commissioner] in this particular instance because I didn’t send him anything. But his predecessor was less than interested. [Lamoer] has been very open to it and has admitted there is a problem.
“I think he is good … I think he’s a good policeman, and that’s what you want … At least in Western Cape we longer have this denial, which is a big block,” Grobler says.
“I have met [Plato] and he has explained that his role is just oversight. [But] the department is very approachable, and is very keen to stop this problem. There is a very different atmosphere in this office,” she adds.
So much so, that on 14 August, she presented her findings to the Provincial Legislature’s Community Safety Standing Committee. What will come out of that meeting is uncertain. Journalists were ordered to leave when police plans to address gangsterism and drugs were discussed.
“We all need to work together [to beat corruption] – community safety, the South African Police Service, the premier.”
The people appointed to the Khayelitsha commission are Justice Catherine O' Regan and Advocate Vusumzi Patrick Pikoli as the commissioners. Advocate Nazreen Bawa and Advocate Thembalihle Sidaki have been appointed to help the commission gather evidence and, if necessary, to lead any evidence before the commission. Amanda Dissel has been appointed the secretary.
It is to investigate the complaints Zille has received “alleging police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations and particularly the reasons for, and causes of them, if found to exist”. A report of its findings and recommendations must be handed to the premier within six months.
What Grobler found
Name a crime and there will be a police officer involved in it, says Grobler, but in Western Cape, she specifically found that:
- Police members are known to steal drugs from court exhibits and act as couriers by using police vehicles to transport drugs for dealers.
- Corrupt members do route clearance with their private cars, acting as “spotters” for gangs. They drive in front of and behind a car carrying a shipment of drugs. If they see a police vehicle they inform the car carrying the drugs to divert.
- Police members are known to resell confiscated drugs, often outside their area. For example, they sell drugs from Hanover Park to dealers in Grassy Park.
- Some corrupt members do illegal search and seizure operations to obtain drugs, not to arrest individuals for possession or dealing, but to use the drugs themselves or to offer them for sale to drug lords.
- The SAPS estimates that only 5 percent of the market value of drugs is ever confiscated – which means 95 percent of drugs are still on the streets.
- Corrupt police members make firearms disappear from evidence stores. These are sold to gangsters.
- They are known to help gangsters get firearm licences.
- Corrupt police members sell classified information, dockets, and information from dockets, such as the names of witnesses, to gangsters. They also make dockets “disappear”.
The office of Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer had not responded to questions at time of publishing.