Saturday, February 11, 2012

Heads to roll in police 'death squad' probe

Heads to roll in police 'death squad' probe
SIBUSISO NGALWA | 12 February, 2012 00:00

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa wants heads to roll in the investigation of the so-called Cato Manor police "death squad" - and for police to use less force when dealing with public protests and suspects.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mthethwa revealed that the KwaZulu-Natal head of investigations in the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) had been given notice of intention to suspend him as a result of the police watchdog's failure to investigate the notorious Organised Crime Unit.

"We can't have a situation where you are told there is a problem here but you've never had one single police officer facing the music.

"There's a team there working very hard. I'm satisfied with the work that is being done. I can tell you the head of the investigating team in KZN in the ICD is being suspended ... precisely because of the magnitude of this issue ... and that no police have been arrested to date in connection with those things," he said.

The Sunday Times last year reported on the deaths of scores of criminal suspects in questionable circumstances, which suggested the now-disbanded unit was operating a hit squad.

Mthethwa said ridding the police of corrupt elements remained a priority, with the aim of building a professional police service.

"You don't live up to my expectation of a professional cop if you have people who are suspected of killing people being the police. Even the usage of maximum force ... no police officer doesn't understand that [it is used] in highly risky areas where scoundrels are armed to the teeth and their aim is to eliminate whoever is on their way. If you are said to be killing people who are not armed then there's a big problem there. That's one of the things that is going to feature this year," he said.

Mthethwa said he had already ordered an investigation into the activities of the Cato Manor unit before the Sunday Times exposé.

This was after the community of Esikhawini, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, told him of an incident where the police picked up a suspect at a public meeting and shot and killed him outside his home.

The police's image also took a knock during service-delivery protests in Ficksburg, Free State, when images of unarmed community activist Andries Tatane being assaulted by riot police - leading to his death after he was shot in the chest - were shown on television.

Mthethwa said the police ministry wanted to change this negative image and ensure that police officers understood what level of force to utilise and under what circumstances.

"It's the actual handling of the public protests, that human touch, that would be most emphasised.

"We know that police work under difficult situations. People criticise us for using water canons. We have reintroduced those techniques because that's not your maximum force. But you'll hear people criticising that, saying these things were used under apartheid."

He said reducing crime remained a priority. "We had set ourselves a task to reduce levels of crime in our country and we see that happening, but we are not satisfied because, comparatively speaking, we still have unacceptably high levels of crime."

Mthethwa said his department was formulating legislation that would govern and "clean up" the private security industry.

"In most cases we have this private security industry which is mostly owned outside of the country. In some instances people complain that they employ people with criminal records," he said.

He said there were about 400000 people employed in the private security industry.

"A whole audit is being done. Here you are talking about a huge force which is bigger than the SA Police Service and the army combined in South Africa. If you have such people armed, you may be sitting with a time bomb if you don't clean up that industry," he said.

ICD s pokesman Moses Dlamini said there were in fact two ICD officials possibly facing suspension over the Cato Manor matter. The officials, whom the ICD refused to name, were given until tomorrow to respond to the notices. ICD executive director Francois Beukman will then decide their fate.

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