A NEW bill allowing the police watchdog more power to investigate rogue policemen and compel police management to enforce disciplinary action, has been signed into law by President Jacob Zuma.
Experts have backed the bill, saying it would hold law-breaking officers legally accountable for their actions.
As part of the process the national watchdog, currently known as the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), will be changed to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and given enhanced powers to investigate and act against officers who have been fingered in criminal cases.
The new legislation, signed into law by Zuma last month, is expected to be passed by Parliament in the next few months.
ICD executive director Francois Beukman stressed the legislation aimed to expand the directorate’s mandate, which was to conduct independent and impartial investigations against rogue police staff.
The IPID legislation will give investigators the “necessary teeth” to investigate deaths in police custody, police brutality, misuse of state firearms, rapes involving officers and allegations of corruption.
In addition, it also forces police station commanders to, “immediately after becoming aware [of crimes involving officers], notify the directorate of any matters that must be investigated by the directorate”.
Station commissioners must do this within 24 hours, followed by a written report to the IPID. Once an investigation has been launched, the police “must provide their full cooperation” and arrange an identification parade within two days as well as hand over all evidence and documentation pertaining to the case.
National police commissioner Bheki Cele will also now be compelled to act on recommendations made by the IPID investigators. In the past, the police were not forced to take these recommendations against officers into consideration. Cele will be legally bound to inform Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the progress and outcome of disciplinary proceedings against each officer.
Beukman said they had noticed investigators worked better as a team, as opposed to individuals concentrating on separate cases.
“The lessons learnt from some of our recent investigations are that we are able to investigate more swiftly when we work as a team regardless where in the country the investigators come from. Therefore, going forward, we will be using the team approach to ensure speedy investigations.”
Currently, the ICD operates under the South African Police Act, with no regulations in place to force police management to institute action against rogue members.
Beukman said the new budget requirements had already been drawn up and would be taken to the national Treasury for funds allocation.
During his national speech in Pretoria last week, he highlighted the investigation of two Port Elizabeth Tactical Response Team (TRT) constables for the murder of a Somali shop owner in Kwazakhele.
Both officers were arrested and given R1000 bail each. A prime witness was taken into protective custody last week after a suspected assassination attempt. Days later, the only other witness was shot dead inside his Kwazakhele shop.
The ICD has 292 service staff and about 100 investigative officers. They are investigating about 6000 cases, of which about 2500 are criminal – ranging from common and serious assault to attempted murder.
Beukman said they planned to open satellite offices around the country, with the first in George in the Southern Cape. “In the long term, more satellite offices will be opened with additional funding for the IPID.”
Institute of Security Studies senior researcher Johan Burger, who assisted with drafting the new IPID legislation, described the act as a “massive step” in the right direction.
“This new act gives the police watchdog more powers to oversee and address vital issues pertaining to misconduct where officers are involved,” he said. “There are certain regulations in the IPID Act that compel the police to take disciplinary action against their members, whereas currently management do not have to implement such action.”
According to Burger, there was “a lot of support” for the IPID Act as it would expand the watchdog’s mandate and jurisdiction.
Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Marinda Mills said provincial management supported the decision to give the watchdog “sharper teeth” and would assist them wherever possible.
No date has been set yet for the implementation of the act but it is expected to be passed by Parliament by the end of the year.