POLICE reservists are volunteers who serve their communities and cannot try to force their way into being employed as permanent members, analysts said yesterday.

Johan Burger, a former police commissioner and now a researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, found it "strange" that reservists were protesting against their not being appointed permanently into the police.

"In all the years it was known that people joined the police reservists not for employment, but as a part-time voluntary service to the public," he said.

"A useful scheme that was developed to improve policing has now become an instrument of blackmail in a way."

Hundreds of reservists protested at the Beyers Naudé Square in Johannesburg on Monday, demanding unconditional integration into the police. The police fired rubber bullets when the protesters failed to disperse.

Public violence charges against 74 of the reservists were later dropped in favour of internal disciplinary action.

Burger suggested that reservists who thought they should be full-time members should "go through (the) motion of applying".

"If they have a good performance record, then they should get preference," he said.

"The police have to maintain high standards. They cannot allow a situation where they are blackmailed."

He said the police should be careful from now on about who they took in as reservists.

David Bruce, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said people in poorer classes could be signing on as reservists because they saw it as a route to employment.

There was "an obvious risk" for the state in trying to use unemployed people in this role.

"It is important that we emphasise that we need a professional police service. The issue of recruitment criteria needs to have consistent standards around that."

DA MP Diane Kohler-Barnard, who sits on Parliament's safety and security portfolio committee, said the state should make it clear to people that they would not be paid to be reservists.

"Reservists are people who give of their time for the satisfaction of helping communities," she said.

Reservist Constable Agnes Sandile, from Sebokeng, said at the march on Monday that she had notched up a number of convictions during her four years of service.

"We were trained by the state. We have experience. Why are we told we do not qualify?" she asked.

"I have worked without pay for years, and now I am overlooked. I have investigated cases for them and topped it with convictions."

The police went on a recruitment drive last month aimed at attracting former officers.

Reservists are also unhappy that former police officers are being favoured for full-time appointments.

The police want to use the former officers to enlarge the force by 50000 members over the next five years.

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union said it "deplores" the "snail-paced intentions" by the government to accept the plight of the reservists.

"We believe all these reservists are sons and daughters of poor, predominantly African origin, who continue to share the spirit of true patriotism to protect our innocent people against lawlessness and disrespect for human rights by thugs," the union's president Zizamele Cebekhulu said.

"While we share a view that we need well sophisticated and resourced policing to respond to any emergency in the call of duty, we note that (the) majority of these young people lack the financial muscles to acquire motor vehicle licences, which is one of the requirements (to join the police)."

Cebekhulu agreed that "all parties" should be subjected to proper screening and considerations, but said that some requirements such as driving licences should be relaxed.

The union also wanted to end psychometric testing because it "is not culture friendly as prescribed by the Employment Equity Act". - Sapa