Few are in doubt about the exact role of the South African Police Service in our democracy and its mandate.
Our constitution clearly states that the SAPS's main responsibility is to serve and protect and secure the citizens and their property.
Implicit in this mandate is the creation and maintenance of a safe and secure environment for all.
But such incidents as happened at Pietermaritzburg's Msunduzi township this week, when three thugs shot dead a policeman and stole guns during a raid on the local police station, generate doubt about the police's capacity to live up to this mandate.
This is especially the case when criminals show up police as being unprepared for the role of unyielding public protector - something that seems to be happening with disturbing frequency nowadays.
Notably this has a debilitating - if not damaging - effect on the crime-weary public as to the ability of the police. Police stations conjure up images of impenetrable fortresses of justice and places where criminals are cowed into submission by the force of the law. As society's bulwark against crime, our police officers enjoy much the same formidable reputation and public respect.
But not so with the local criminals, it seems.