SA Police- is the thin blue line cracking?

Anthony Robertson (Tracking & Recovery)I’ve been a reservist for just over five years, before that I worked as a chaplain and met lots of great police officers, some of whom became friends. I experienced the joy of a successful arrest, the frustration of an unsuccessful chase, the irritation of “hurry up and wait” and the insult of an unforgiving, ungrateful public. I’ve felt deep grief at the death of a “Friend in Uniform” , given up on bad planning, boring ops, egotistical officers,’slapgat officers’, and endured the long night shift where nothing happens. I’ve laughed with my crew, laughed at my crew and laughed at other crews. I’ve been shocked, horrified, a little scared, my heart has raced, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made some real good calls.I’ve recognized how wearing the uniform has changed me, affected me and matured me: but I’ve worn the uniform with pride. I’ve also recognized how lucky I’ve been. Lucky to be a part of that camaraderie” that only those who’ve been a part of can know.Most importantly, I’m lucky I’m still alive.

aaaaaaaOthers are not so lucky. Some have died on duty in a hail of bullets ( excuse the cliché) Others have died at their own hands. Some have taken the lives of others and then their own life. Many officers, although living, just go through the motions of working. For them, the flame that once burned so powerfully, is now a flicker. Officers have turned to corruption, to crime, to drink to drugs and to whatever addiction they can get their hands on.But most, if not all started out wanting to be a police officer: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE!

So, what went wrong? Who can we blame?

Do we blame the history and legacy of apartheid? Do we blame society, the government or the police management, or do we blame ourselves?

The challenges faced by police officers are universal. Every country faces corruption in their police force, there are deaths, suicides and maladaptive ways of coping with the stress of being an officer.

IMG00185-20110218-1246 However, in South Africa these numbers are much higher! The crime is more violent and more concentrated, corruption is greater, our officers are bigger targets for cowardly criminals and the risk our officers face both physically, emotionally and psychologically is much greater.

Our officers are underpaid, under-resourced, unappreciated and at times badly managed. Although there are “systems” in place to manage stress and the effects of trauma, the stigma attached to counselling and psyche services is great, and some do question the abilities, competency and confidentiality of such counselling.

Yes, standing orders exist to ensure that police officers receive counselling after an incident.But I remember the saying “ You can take a horse to the water, but you cant force him to drink”

So lets be brutally honest here, there is a serious problem with the stress levels of our police officers in SA.

The South African Police Force is complex. The SAP faces a mammoth task of tackling crime, our communities expect and demand it, government and opposition parties demand it and of course, the SAP management demands it of their officers. Perhaps in our expectations, therein lies the problem, and the solution may not be what we expect.

I have always believed that one needs to examine the entire problem to find a solution, and for such a complex problem it is impossible that there should be a single solution.

If we want to tackle crime effectively, we need to ensure that our officers are well motivated, well paid, well resourced and well trained. Logical,yes. But motivation and good management and better resources does not necessarily mean the Hoorah, go get em’ boys, better faster cars and a higher salary type of solution, although that would be nice for many I’m sure.

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Remember the comment about complexity and no single solution?

A lasting solution or improvement would mean a long term strategy to examine the various issues that need adjustment.I could list numerous examples, such as an improvement to the members medical aid for psychological services, so that officers can afford to see a counsellor of their own choice, housing and education allowances, allowances for danger pay, better career advancement opportunities regardless of gender or race, on-going management training for  ranking officers ( perhaps lessons in people skills too- police are people you know!) and of course better marketing or training about the need for self care, stress management and the need to talk about the effects of traumatic stress.

A strategy needs to be drafted to more effectively manage the psycho-social needs of our officers now and it needs to come from the highest level and it needs to happen now. I am quite certain that there are a number of adjustments that need to be made. Part of the adjustment also needs to be made in the expectations of our society and communities and a realisation that when we judge or criticize our police officers, we are in essence judging our own. The men and women that make up our police force are a reflection of South African society,and for change to happen in the SAP, change needs to take place in South Africa and in us as South Africans.

Philip Stoneman

_Dr.Phil_    Philip Stoneman 0732703375 BN SAP.

4 thoughts on “SA Police- is the thin blue line cracking?

  • January 13, 2012 at 9:52 am
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    To become a police officer must be a calling and the same as becoming a soldier you do it because that is what you want to do.
    A few whites in the old South Africa went to the poice force because they did not want to do national service and the most of them were dead weight.
    The white man of the old days who wanted to become a police officer did not join because of the pay he joined because he wanted to serve his country and the community.
    Today most of the black policemen see been a policeman as a form of power and only after they come out of collage do they relise it is not just driving a police vehicle but a lote of paper work and ground work and shift work and you must show proof if you do not go to work and if some one in your family dies you also have to show a death note
    If anybody wants to join the Police Force he/she must not join because of pay he/she must join because that is what they want to do It is not about money it a job that can be scare or dangerous and you will see death and you will look death in the eye many times and you will believe in God and you will also ask God why and you will even not believe in God and you will see things that very few people ever see in there life and you will see babys been born and you may even lose your partener and you will see the rough and tough and clever and the saddness and you will cry and you will laugh and most of the time you will have no money But every day you will enjoy been a true policemen

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  • January 13, 2012 at 10:57 am
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    First things first…..we need to be led from the front, by a person who has the balls to take the fight to the crooks. Unfortunately, the one person who was willing to do this, was accused of corruption( I suspect because he was not scared to take out corruption). Secondly, we need to see that Integrity and honesty are HIGHLY valued in the police. Our commanders must not cover up corruption, or manipulate crime stats…..Thirdly, we need to see that discipline is being enforced regardless of race, gender, or ethnic/tribe. Fourthly, Management must come and work for at leat three months with us on the streets-some of them came out of a university and straight into a cushy job. no street experience or cred! Fifthly, resources must be given to the members to do our jobs. How must I be able to catch red light robbers without any vehicles; unmarked vehicles; NVG equipment etc? Lastly, Morale, show the members that they are valued. not the office staff, the man member who puts his life on the line everyday. have a monthly braai or every shift during night shift-by management-shows that you as an senior officer, cares about the lowly cop on the street.

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  • January 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm
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    Both comments have such value and one cannot disagree with the comment that to be a police officer is a calling….but the economy nowadays is to tough that a decent salary is needed. However I dont believe that Salary alone will change the problems faced.At least a living wage… regarding the comment about black / white police officer…I know many good black officers and a few bad white officers…some black cops I know are pretty sharp and dedicated. Yes, culture does play a part and we need to redevelop a culture of thinking as a police officer and eradicate the culture of its “OK to be mediocre” Leading from the front is vital, I believe a lot of damage was done by some predecessors: lets hope the new topcop, who according to some friends who knew him when he joined the takkies was quit sharp. One will need to wait and see. Technology is available: Lets use it. I am frustrated waiting so long to get a response from enquiries when having a laptop or tablet in the car connected would allow me to do a vehicle enquiry immediately, or even to have the MCD in each vehicle ( with dedicated, clean cops of course..) Thanks for the comments, appreciate them and keep them coming!!!

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  • January 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm
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    The Mayor of New York in the 1980 Rude Genarhane (name not to sure) saw that the New york Police was the most corrupt force in the States at the time and he called the police chiefs in and asked them why was there force so corrupt and they all said not enough pay and he then went out and got a 100% increase in all policemens pay did this sort out the problem ?no it did not
    He then fired all the chiefs employed new policemen and started the broken window policy and to day New York has the best crime control system in place and there crime level are down by 90%
    Rude then said just before he retired that he saw that to be a policemen or even a fire men is not a job you do for more money it a job that is a calling and only people that had a calling would make good policemen or firemen
    I did not mean to use race Black/white as I have worked with very good black policemen (True to there work)truth be told the policeforce is out control because of policemen been given rank with out the experence or put in position that they do not have the knowledge and all this was to give senior position to black raw not trained policemen and that is why a lot of white good policemen took pakages or board I am not saying this was or is wrong and I understand blacks were oppress but they must understand that you can not just paint the kettle black to sort out a problem and if a white/black man/women joins the police because he just wants a job he will never be a good cop and there are to day more black policemen in the force and every road block or speed trap or traffic stop i have been stopped in has been R50 to R100 for cool drink and not once was it a white policemen and this is the truth now i ask do we want the truth the whole truth nothing but the truth and yes there are bad white,colourd and indian policemen but they only make up a few in the force and i believe that the police management are to scared to put lap tops because they will go missing
    I say the police force or any goverment employer regardless race,money must remember they are paid by us citizens taxes so why must it alway be about money in the old days you join the Post offices,Police force.Railways and other goverment depts not because of pay but as a career and most people who retired after 30 or 40 yearsservice had a housesand pension and they could say i was true to my fellow citizens

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