Police must take war to criminals

THE overwhelming victory of the ANC at the polls was a ringing endorsement of our commitment to take the war to the criminals and throw the book at them. This is a commitment we will not shy away from.

THE overwhelming victory of the ANC at the polls was a ringing endorsement of our commitment to take the war to the criminals and throw the book at them. This is a commitment we will not shy away from.

Police officers are not excluded from this commitment to protect the lives of ordinary citizens and for that reason any police officer who acts outside the ambit of the law will be dealt with.

It is conceivable that sometimes citizens will be caught in the line of fire between the police and criminals. While this is an intended consequence on the side of the criminals, it is regrettable on the part of the police.

We strongly empathise with the family of baby Atlegang Phalane, whose life was tragically lost when he was mistakenly thought to be carrying a gun.

We vividly understand and share in the pain inflicted on them by the untimely loss of their baby.

It should be understood that the use of deadly force is not in itself the alpha and omega of our response to crime. It is also not new.

The use of deadly force by the police is already in the act we are now considering for amendment. We are proposing amendments aimed at improving the definition of its application.


The measures are aimed at strengthening the hand of the police in fighting violent crime, including amendments to section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

They are a clarion call to the nation to join us in eradicating the cancer of crime from our moral fabric, and also to empower the police to tackle violent crime decisively.

We welcome a national dialogue on these measures and every South African must be part of this public discourse. Borrowing from the first chairperson of the Communist Party of China, Mao Tse-Tung, we say: "Let a thousand flowers bloom, let a thousand schools of thought contend."

But we must be wary of being abused and insulted in the name of public discourse.

Public dialogue aimed at building a nation is not characterised by insults and snide remarks aimed at individuals in the hope that they will cower into submission.

The amendment to the law is intended to guide the police in the use of lethal force when confronted by armed and violent criminals. The aim is to strengthen the hand of the police in the face of the heightened brutality of criminals.

It also seeks to remove the ambiguity that characterises the existing provisions in law.

Our proposals do not condone reckless and irresponsible behaviour outside the ambit of the law by police officers. Their conduct must at all times be exemplary and characterised by maximum restraint, without undermining the effort to ring the death-knell of violent crime.

Officers who act outside the ambit of the law will be dealt with severely. A number of them are currently languishing in jail for such irresponsible conduct.

But we will not be intimidated into submission in our efforts to act decisively and empower the police in tackling dangerous criminals.

We will ensure that police understand that their duty is to uphold the law at all times and protect innocent civilians from crime and those who snigger at the law for their own selfish ends.


The crime statistics paint a grim picture and sound alarm bells insofar as violent and contact crimes are concerned.

The criminals have upped their game and have become more sophisticated and more ruthless and our desire to redouble efforts in fighting and combating crime must be understood in that context.

Too many innocent people and police officers needlessly lose their lives at the hands of criminals.

In the last year 105 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty while protecting the lives of the innocent, and this must embolden us to take the necessary measures to strengthen the hand of the police.

Criminals have also become very daring, boldly strolling into public places in broad daylight to commit daring acts of violent crime using innocent people as cannon fodder.

We value the lives of our people and implore the police to do everything in their power in the fight against crime to protect them.

We have never called for a gun-toting vigilante police force that is a law unto itself, but we seek to ensure that in appropriate circumstances where police are confronted by armed criminals they are not constrained in the use of lethal force. This is by no means a licence for police officers to shoot unarmed and innocent civilians.

It is for this reason that the oversight mechanism of the Independent Complaints Directorate will be strengthened to guard against any potential abuse.

We expect of our officers to exercise powers granted to them by the law with extreme caution, yet must not relent in their pursuit to strike fear into the hearts of dangerous criminals.

While we cannot ask the police to act with impunity, we similarly cannot ask them to retreat in fighting violent crime.

lThe writer is deputy minister of police