National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega thinks animosity between the South African Police Service and communities is created by “unfortunate utterances” critical of police.
Addressing a memorial service for three slain police officers in Kuils River, Cape Town, on Monday, she said it’s time to “introspect and think deeply” about what is being said about police, so that they were not positioned as the enemy.
That may be a fair comment. Certainly we should not be glib about heartfelt remarks made in front of colleagues and family of officers grieving after three murders.
Police do come in for a lot of criticism. Regrettably much of it is often justified. There have been too many instances of corruption and quite a few high-profile cases where police have behaved with excessive violence.
The televised murder of Ficksburg protester Andries Tatane did not endear that community to the SAPS. Nor were matters helped by the failure to secure a conviction for this crime. The image of the police also took a knock with the death of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia who was dragged behind a police vehicle.
Phiyega herself has endured relentless criticism at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre, where the police have not been portrayed in a favourable light.
We are not convinced that criticism of the police necessarily leads to levels of animosity which result in officers being killed.
However, if there is such a link the police themselves can improve their own safety by striving to ensure that neither they nor their colleagues behave in ways that invite public opprobrium.