Independent Complaints Directorate on Increase of Deaths as a Result of Police and in Police Custody

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23 June 2004
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

23 June 2004

Ms M Sotyu (ANC)

Documents handed out:
ICD Statistics: April 2003-March 2004
ICD Strategic Plan
ICD Programme 2: Investigation of Complaints
Committee Report on ICD Budget
Committee Report on Department Budget
Draft Committee Programme 2004

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) presented feedback to the Committee on questions raised in their previous meeting (2 June 2004). Adv K McKenzie, Executive Director, pointed out the mistake made in the amount of deaths in police custody as there had been an increase of 35.2% and not 31.3%. She said that better training methods should be implemented to assist in decreasing the death rate of prisoners by police action and in police custody. A concern raised by Committee Members was the increase in prison suicides with the use of belts and shoelaces. Adv McKenzie said that that was pure negligence by the police and that the Service Commanders should be held responsible.


The Chair said that nothing should be asked outside the report (ICD Statistics: April 2003-March 2004) that was presented in the previous briefing by ICD on 2 June 2004.

The Chair said that special permission had to be obtained to have the meeting before Budget Vote 23 and 25 were passed.

ICD is the civilian body responsible for oversight of the South African Police Force (SAPS).

The ICD delegation consisted of Adv K McKenzie, Mr M Dlamini, Mr T Tshabalala, Mr S Mabona and Ms E Verster.

Adv McKenzie said that there was an error in the last report on the amount of deaths in police custody. The figure was 714 and not 693. She said that interactive training was essential where police officers had specialist training in shooting and making arrests. That would help to alleviate the problem of increased deaths in custody.

Mr Dlamini presented some of the statistics available in the report. He said that the majority of deaths in police custody occurred in KwaZulu-Natal (20.4%). Males (95%) accounted for the majority of the deceased in police custody and as a result of police action. The actual increase in deaths was 35.2% and not 31.3% as Adv McKenzie had already mentioned.

The Chair asked how confident ICD was about police understanding of Section 49 of the SA Police Services Act now that the Firearms Control Act regulations had been implemented.

Adv McKenzie said that there was confusion around that Section because some police were still unsure whether to shoot or not in crime related cases. She proposed an interactive training system where police officers were equipped with arresting skills and training at shooting ranges be made compulsory.

Mr A Gaum (NNP) was concerned about the increase of deaths in police cells (20%) and asked why that was so. He raised his concern about the great number of cases of police misconduct reported by the ICD.

Adv McKenzie said that the majority of deaths in police cells related to ill health. Deaths also related to inmate fighting.

Mr R Jankielsohn (DA) referred to ICD's human resource strategy that indicated managerial problems. Many of the senior staff members resigned because of disciplinary charges. He wanted clarification on that issue.

Adv McKenzie said that some of the senior staff moved on to other jobs as she could not offer them better posts because of budget constraints. One member for example, Mr Mdlala, was promoted to the Scorpions unit. There was also the case of a senior member committing fraud because he misrepresented his qualifications for his post and that case still continued in court. Therefore, senior members were resigning for one of two reasons: better job opportunities or disciplinary charges.

Mr F Maserumule (ANC) asked who was responsible for the training of constables as numbers were increasing dramatically.

Adv McKenzie said SAPS was responsible for training but that ICD assisted. The Department of Transport also helped when it came to training constables in traffic legislation. A Belgian funded project was underway that would facilitate uniformity in municipal police services.

The Chair asked ICD to differentiate between the causes of death in custody.

Both Adv McKenzie and Mr Tshabalala responded to the question. Suicides in prisons where belts or shoelaces were used were due to police negligence. Those items should be removed before the prisoner is taken into custody. There was however cases where clothing items such as shirts and in some cases blankets were used in suicides. Items like blankets could not be removed because prisoners could die of the cold.

There were cases of police brutality but also instances when for example police arrived at a crime scene and the suspect had already died or when death occurred in the ambulance or at a hospital. Inmate fighting caused severe injuries and death. Therefore, even though deaths occurred in police custody not all of them were committed by the police.

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) asked who had the authority to take disciplinary action and how police guilty of assaulting or killing prisoners in custody was disciplined.

Adv McKenzie said that ICD could only make recommendations for disciplinary action as they did not have the prosecution powers to force SAPS to adopt the action. In terms of belts and shoelaces still being in possession of prisoners in police custody, the Service Commander should be held responsible for negligence on his part.

The Chair asked if ICD could explain its working relationship with trade unions and the Secretariat.

Adv McKenzie responded that ICD had good relations with the unions, especially the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU). The unions sat in on meetings with the task team deliberating methods to decrease the amount of deaths in police custody. Cases with which the unions were not happy were sent to ICD for consultation.

Their relationship with the Secretariat was strong. ICD's monitoring was limited to trend analysis and to find systemic problems in SAPS and to forward those concerns to the Minister of Safety and Security, Mr C Nqakula. All recommendations were sent to the Secretariat.

Ms D Nhlengethwa (ANC) said that Adv McKenzie mentioned the task team that dealt with strategies to decrease the death count in police custody. She asked what the team's functions were and whether they had counseling skills.

Adv McKenzie said that a full explanation on the functions and progress made by the task team would be available in ICD's Annual Report that would be completed in two months' time. One important component in discussions by the task team was improved custody management. Officers would have to be trained on how to handle prisoners. Cell structures would also have to be addressed. Overcrowded prison cells were not conducive to custody management. When an officer entered an overcrowded cell at night, for example, he could be assaulted.

The Chair said that ICD would have the full support of the Committee if they continued to fulfill their mandate. She said that she had expected more from ICD since it was given such a large budget.

The Chair thanked ICD for their quick response. They were only notified about the meeting two days earlier.

Mr Jankielsohn had many questions pertaining to financial management and asked ICD to minute that. The Chair said that he could forward those questions to her office.

The meeting was adjourned.


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