We don't need more paper — we need to talk

September 2013 Security Services & Risk Management

“Almost 20 years after the newly elected government faced the colossal task of fundamentally changing the policies of the apartheid government, it is time to confidently step back and assess where we are at as far as policing is concerned.”

This the view of Peter Gastrow of the Institute for Security Studies and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime on the Police Minister’s Green Paper on Private Security and why he believes it should be controlled by the SAPS.

Gastrow maintains that the review exercise should be open and substantive, involve broad public participation, and show that the government has confidence in its citizens.

But this was not the case with the government’s Green Paper on Policing, says Gastrow. “A small group of insiders drafted the Green Paper in their offices and rushed it through a limited number of ‘public’ meetings across the country, which most members of the public were not even aware of. This has for all intents and purposes been a closed process. The government has adopted this ‘safe’ approach, presumably to ensure that it can fast track the process and maybe enact new legislation ahead of the 2014 general elections. It is therefore not surprising that there was no public debate on the Green Paper to speak of, nor was there the opportunity for citizens to air their views on their expectations of the police.”

The Green Paper on Policing set out to review existing policing policies and to formulate broad medium and long-term policy directions for the SAPS. It also aimed at redressing negative perceptions of the SAPS. But the draft policy document has been written behind closed doors, and the consultation process is now being rushed through, leaving little room for meaningful public input. Apart from being a flawed process this is a significant missed opportunity to rebuild much needed trust between the police and the communities they serve.

To what extent are current practices and policies still in sync with the changed environment and with citizens’ expectations? Any responsive government would from time to time initiate a review or re-examination of some of the key state functions, particularly policing, which impacts on every citizen and on the country’s stability.

“Unfortunately, governments tend to undertake a fundamental re-look at policing in reaction to crises, whether to a crisis within the police or in response to a major decline in public confidence in them,” says Gastrow.


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