Police officers may face danger regularly, but are also afforded many opportunities

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Being a police officer is one of the most dangerous careers in South Africa, and because of its risky nature few people, even those within the police force, consider the opportunities within this organisation.

"The South African police force has developed one of the only world-class career development processes in Africa," said Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation senior researcher Themba Masuku.

Themba said there are 152000 police personnel, both civilians and police officials, active in the country.

"In Johannesburg there are around 5000 police cars," he said.

"This is very good when you consider that a country like Ghana has only 380 cars for its 15000-strong police force. Most African countries operate in this way."

South African Police Service (SAPS) spokesman Selby Bokaba said that training facilities in the Eastern Cape, Cape Town, Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal ensure that the best training is provided.

"We are trying to downsize the number of police working in offices," he said. "We want as many trained police officers in the station to provide much-needed support."

Selby said that with the recent high levels of crime it is important that trained police officers are out in the field preventing crimes and solving cases "instead of sitting in offices doing the work of clerks".

While the road to becoming a police officer is not always easy and quite often dangerous, there are benefits.

"Members of the SAPS get to study for free as far as I know," Themba said. "I know a police officer who started out as a constable in 2001 but is now a director simply because he took advantage of the opportunities provided."

"There are also guys out there who are still inspectors after 20 years of being in the police. They get frustrated because they don't use the resources available," he said.

Training to become a police officer takes two years.

"The first six months are spent at one of the training institutes where you learn all the theory of police work," said Selby. "This is the period where trainees get acquainted with the principles of crime prevention, arrest procedures, crime intelligence, dealing with sources and VIP protection training, fitness, street survival and competency in using firearms."

The second six months of training is spent in a police station working and absorbing experience from a crime-prevention officer who acts as a mentor. The following 12 months is an observation period where the cadets go unmonitored, and only after "the prerogative of the National Commissioner" are they sworn in as members of the SAPS.

"We deal with everything and are now focusing more on the rigours of being a police officer, especially with the recent incidents where some of our members were killed," said Selby.

"The SAPS provides free therapy, but sadly it is severely underused," said Themba. "There seems to be a culture in the police, and Africa at large, that if you seek counselling you are weak, but this is not true. In Canada, a country with one of the best police forces, officers regularly go for therapy sessions and HIV testing."