EC police fork out millions in lawsuits

R18.8 million also paid out for 341 cases of unlawful arrest and detention in the Eastern Cape

Eastern Cape police fork out millions in civil suits
Eastern Cape police fork out millions in civil suits
Image: Mark West

Eastern Cape police appear to be trigger-happy, with R12m paid out of state coffers in shooting-related civil claims over the past financial year.

This was revealed on Thursday after it emerged that the provinces’ police had paid out more than R225.6m in civil claims over the past seven years.Over the past two years alone, pay-outs totalled R73.2m, with more than 6,500 civil claims still pending.

The shocking figures were revealed by Safety and Liaison MEC Weziwe Tikana in a written response to DA shadow MEC for Safety and Security, Bobby Stevenson.

A breakdown of figures shows that between April 2017 and March 2018 a total of R39m had already been paid in only 473 claims, compared to the same period the previous year when R34m had been paid.

According to the documents, some of the categories of pay-outs during the 2017/18 financial year included R18.8m for 341 cases of unlawful arrest and detention, R12.4m for 21 police-related shooting cases, R1.7m for 45 collision cases and R1.5m for 21 assault cases.

Stevenson said over the past seven years the provincial police had coughed up R225m in civil suits.“What a waste of money.

Hundreds of vehicles could have been bought with this amount.

Communities want to see police vehicles on the beat rather than hearing about police being beaten in court settlements,” he said.

“The bad apples that are guilty of brutality and lack of discipline cannot be allowed to tarnish the good work being done by our policemen, and women, often under very trying circumstances.

Bad behaviour casts doubt in people's minds.”

Stevenson said in addition to the claims and payments already made, there were 6,509 pending claims as at the end of April this year.

“This could run into hundreds of millions.“Active steps must be taken to rid the system of corrupt members, to end the scourge of police brutality and to ensure that police criminality is appropriately dealt with.

This requires the commitment of senior managers in the police service and the necessary political will to enforce the existing regulations.”

During the 2017 budget speech, former police minister Fikile Mbalula called the high amount of pay-outs by police “unacceptable”.

In May, during the police Annual Performance Plan, the parliamentary police portfolio committee were told by the Institute for Security Studies how the national police civil claims had increased by 778%, from R38,2m in 2007/8 to R335,4m in the 2016/17 financial year.

Breakdown of claims paid by Eastern Cape police

2011/12 police paid R15. million for 506 claims;

2012/13 police paid R23.9 million for 538 claims;

2013/14 police paid R33.6 million 663 claims;

2014/15 police paid R28.3 million for 667 claims

2015/16 police paid R51 million for 781 claims;

2016/17 police paid R34 million for 677 claims; and

2017/18 police paid R39 million for 473 claims.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Sibongile Soci blamed “opportunistic litigation by attorneys” on the high number of civil suits.

“The high number of claims does not necessarily imply that all such claims have got merit or will be successful.”

Soci said management was provided with a monthly report to identify the stations racking up the most civil claims, and the root causes of those claims.

“The expectations are that station commanders must develop plans at their respective stations to reduce incidents leading to civil claims.

“Successful judgments are discussed at management meetings and information sessions are held with members as part of best practices.

Unsuccessful judgments are also discussed with a view to avoiding future recurrence of such incidents,” she said.

Soci said officials who violated policies and instructions, or did not act in the best interest of the department, were held personally liable.

Asked how much money the state has recouped from these officials, Soci declined to answer.

She also failed to answer which stations had racked up the most civil claims.

The Institute for Security Studies head of Justice and Violence Prevention, Gareth Newham said that the high civil claims pay-out was a national issue that stems from poor police conduct and undermines effectiveness and public approval.

“Nationally, the SAPS were ordered by the courts to pay out R335 million last year due to police misconduct. Moreover, the amount paid out in civil claims has increased by 778% in the past ten years. This shows that the problem is constantly been getting increasingly worse across the country. Declining public trust and approval for the police is evidenced in the national Victims of Crime Survey annual results since 2011/12,” he said.

This survey also shows that there are substantial declines in the numbers of victims of crimes such as assault and sexual offences who decide to report the incident to the police. The reliability of the crime statistics for these categories is therefore also declining.”

“While there are many excellent top commanders, far too many people who do not possess the necessary integrity, skills, experience or expertise have been appointed to the top management ranks which includes Lt-Generals, Major-Generals and Brigadiers. As a result, the systems for promoting good police conduct on one hand and holding police officers accountable for misconduct have deteriorated,” Newham explained.

“Very few police officials involved in misconduct get properly disciplined and only a small handful gets fired from the police each year. The consequence is that too many police officials who are involved in corruption, crime and brutality, or simply do not adhere to the expected standards of policing remain in the police.”

Newham said that the problem starts at the top management and listed Marikana massacre as an example.

“Similarly, none of the senior officers involved in the Marikana massacre or those who lied under oath before the Farlam Commission of Inquiry have been held accountable. If the police does not take effective action against senior officers who commit wrong doing, how can it be expected to maintain discipline amongst lower ranking officers,” he added. “Until there is a wholesale rejuvenation of the top management echelon of the police, problems of poor service delivery and wide scale police misconduct are most likely to continue. Good police leadership would ensure that appropriate action would be taken against each police official where evidence of misconduct is available.”