Editorials 5.9.2016 09:00 am

Talk is as cheap as our cops’ lives

Members of the South African Police Service and family members sing and pray at a service on the National Prayer Day for the SAPS, 30 September 2015, at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto. National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega attended the ceremony. Picture: Michel Bega

Members of the South African Police Service and family members sing and pray at a service on the National Prayer Day for the SAPS, 30 September 2015, at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto. National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega attended the ceremony. Picture: Michel Bega

The unabating violent attacks on police officers show whatever management plan to turn around the situation is not working.

The upsurge in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty is indicative of the general violence plaguing the country. Among violent crimes on the increase is murder, the rate of which, according to police statistics released on Friday, is now 34 per 100 000 – up from 33 last year.

For the 2015/16 financial year, 18 673 murders were recorded nationally, up from 17 805 in 2014, which is an increase of 4.88%. Robbery with aggravating circumstances increased by 2.7%, and common assault went up by 2.2%. Carjacking increased by 14.3%.

This crime increased in all provinces, with Gauteng hardest hit. Residential robbery increased by 2.7% in the same period. Clearly, these troubling figures tell a sad story of what is claiming the lives of our men and women in blue.

There is correlation between the spike in violent crime and the violence against cops. Speaking yesterday at the Union Buildings at an event commemorating fallen police officers, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said 72 officers had been killed between April 2015, and end of March 2016.

A total of 40 police officers died in the line of duty, Ramaphosa said. Police Minister Nathi Nhleko tried to spin this, saying this figure showed a decline, compared to 2014/15 period during which 86 police officers were murdered. “This shows that strategies to ensure the safety of the police are staring to bear fruits,” Nhleko said.

While the minister is correct that there was a slight decrease, from 86 to 72 police murdered, what he failed to mention is that 35 officers died in the line of duty in 2014/15 financial year and 40 died in the 2015/16 period, which means there was a 14.3% increase in the number of police officers killed while performing their duties.

The unabating violent attacks on police officers show whatever management plan to turn around the situation is not working. Government excels in hosting conferences and seminars but is very poor when it comes to the implementation of ideas coming out of these gatherings, the hosting of which costs the taxpayer a fortune.

In July 2011, SAPS leadership convened a Summit Against Attacks on and Killing of Police Officials. Following this, then Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa presented what he called a 10-point Programme of Action. Among the proposals was an “Adopt-a-Cop” awareness campaign, a national project to inform and get the buy-in from all in society, using different media platforms and partnerships.

“We have endorsed this suggestion and have accordingly agreed that a Task Team consisting of (Ministry of Police, SAPS, Civilian Secretariat for Police, Lead SA, SHOUT, Sanef and various media houses) be immediately established to drive this campaign,” Mthethwa said then.

This was a bold plan which never saw the light of day because very little was done to ensure its success. As one plan after another fails, police continue dying in the hands of vicious criminals. It cannot be normal that the mandate of the police to protect the nation should come with such a heavy price.

Police need protection from the community they serve. But ours is not a normal society. In fact, something highly disturbing occurred in Ekurhuleni where members of a community – including school pupils in uniform – laughed and watched idly as a dangerous thug attacked a police officer trying to apprehend him. More disturbingly, it was alleged that a few among the cheering crowd joined in the assault of the officer.

If we can fix some of the ills tearing society apart, such as unacceptably high levels of violence and the general moral decay, we won’t have as many as 18 673 South Africans being killed in one year alone – among these dozens of police officers who are meant to protect all citizens.

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