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Various functions and roles of policing agencies were limited in a community


A practical and affordable approach, Pretoria, 4-6 August 1992. Etienne Marais In Glanz, L.

Proceedings of the Human Sciences Research Council conference: Managing Crime in the New South Africa: Introduction Police-community relations have been thrust into the spotlight by the "Waddington Inquiry" into the investigation of the Boipatong massacre. An improvement in the relationships between the police and the communities they are tasked with serving, is a vital step towards the achievement of greater levels of affordable personal safety. This paper is based on three starting points.

Political factors have played a vital role in the way in which police-community relations have developed. Because the police are the most visible and powerful arm of the state, the nature of the state and the way it is perceived has a profound impact on police-community relations - and vice versa. The way in which the role of the police and the relationship between police and society are understood, by both police and society themselves, has a vital bearing on their expectations, and hence on the relationship itself.

Recommendations for the improvement of police-community relations must therefore be based on a full analysis of the way in which the police-society relationship is understood.

This includes views on police accountability and the role of the police themselves. The developments in policing internationally can provide us with important lessons for the improvement in police-community relations. Although other countries have different social dynamics, there are similarities in both the traditions of policing and the forms of social problems encountered worldwide.

The area of police-community relations and more recently community policing has been of major concern in Europe and America for over two decades. There is little doubt that the relationship between police agencies and significant sectors of South Africa's population is characterised by mistrust and even hostility.

  • Transgressions of the individual's freedom can thus only be justified within the context of public support for the methods and practice of policing;
  • The explanation is to be found in the nature of police accountability, continued political polarisation in which the police have been one of the more controversial issues , and the nature of the police force itself;
  • Assumption that the police act in terms of who they are - emphasis on police culture as determinant of policing styles, methods and the focus for favourable or discriminatory policing;
  • Police-community relations are the essence of law enforcement in the context of democratic reforms;
  • The unquestioned doctrine of police practice based on impartiality and minimum force is presented to the public as the logical outcome of democratic government and law and order.

While I have said that police-community relations are affected by national political dynamics, the relationship between policing and politics is a dynamic one. Indeed the proactive development of positive police-community relations and greater levels of personal security is a potentially important factor in the development of more co-operative political relations in South Africa.

Improved police-community relations will not only lead to greater levels of personal security, but have a significant role to play in the resolution of community conflicts and the development of more harmonious relations between various groups in South Africa. The Role of Police-Community Relationships in the Achievement of Affordable Personal Safety The relationship between the police and the public determines to a significant degree just how effective policing will be in the protection of social order.

There are several levels at which this can be examined. The first and most fundamental is based on the role and nature of policing itself. The Nature of Policing The police do not exist in isolation and cannot operate on their own. Police in a democratic society are delegated their authority by the state on behalf of the people and are, in the final analysis, supposed to be accountable to the people they serve.

There are two key features of policing which arise from the definition of the role of the police. The coercive power of the police. The police are the only agency in society which is granted the legal authority to use force violence in the exercise of their duties. At the same time the police are able to deprive individuals of the very rights and freedoms which democratic societies regard as so important. While the law provides the basis upon which police operate, this and the various police regulations do not in general determine precisely what police should do.

This difficult nature of policing means that one of the "most important regulating factors is that the police must secure public approval for their actions" Pike 1986: Preconditions for Effective Policing The second level of concern for sound police-community relations relates to the importance of the "partnership in policing".

According to Van Heerden there is "a tacit partnership in policing", because … the "very basis of orderliness is the internalised inclination of every citizen to obey the law" Van Heerden 1986: In terms of the approach of Police Science to this issue, the police are the active partner, with an obligation to "… convert the passivity of the passive partner into a full and active partnership" Van Heerden 1986: This approach includes some emphasis on the "socialising aspect of police work" which includes the promotion of voluntary compliance with the law and voluntary assistance to the police.

If one examines the actual nature of policing it becomes clear that there are a number of practical ways in which the "partnership in policing" is enormously important in the prevention of crime.

The first is the nature of crime prevention itself, which is regarded as the primary function of the police. Obviously since the police can only facilitate most of the components of crime prevention its effectiveness depends of the degree to which members of the public: Take responsibility, both individually and collectively for their own protection Are aware of the need to minimise opportunities for crime Are willing to co-operate with the police and make available information regarding potential or actual crime problems, even when these problems do not affect them directly The primary deterrent to potential criminals is not the law or that the police alone will take action against the criminal, but that the community collectively will disapprove to such an extent that the victim, or other witnesses will take action by bringing in the police and if need be, assisting with the investigation by telling the police what they know.

Crime cannot be prevented by the police if the community does not have confidence in the police to do so, or if for some other reasons crime is not reported. Research has suggested that a great deal of crime is not in fact reported to the police - this is obviously also dependent on the quality of the relationship between police and community.

The second area concerns the reactive element of policing, namely the arrest and investigation of crimes with a view to the prosecution of the offender. Although the police are delegated large powers of investigation and arrest they various functions and roles of policing agencies were limited in a community very few in number relative to the community.

The vast majority of breaches of the law occur outside of the awareness of the police and must be reported to the police before they can be acted on. The process of investigating crimes does not, contrary to the mythology surrounding detective work, generally succeed through the brilliance of detectives, but is to a large extent dependent on the willingness of the public to assist with information and to act as witnesses when the case comes to court.

  1. At the Political Level The need for a broader system of police accountability which is inclusive rather than exclusive is essential. Research and assessment around the prevalence of discrimination in policing is vital.
  2. The different emphases in these different approaches to police-community interaction are reflective of different perceptions of the proper role of the police in the maintenance of social order, and of the relationship between police and specific and varied communities in society.
  3. Beyond Consensus - The "problem" of Community Diversity The alternative view of policing is based on the realisation of the diversity of communities and hence of social order.
  4. An emphasis on the exchange of information between police and community. Neighbourhood watch-type partnerships are very positive but these should not be imposed on a community because some of the community members are willing to participate.
  5. It is where solutions to the violence have been forged at a local level that they have had the most success. There is often the impression created that groups such as the ANC do not have a consistent approach to policing, with on the one hand a sense that the present police force is completely opposed.

Public Input into Policing Strategy The need for the public to assist the police as described above is however only one leg of the relationship. Less often recognised and certainly less developed is the way in which the specific concerns and understanding of the community can impact on and improve the management of policing. The allocation of resources and the selection of priorities is one of the key problems in police management.

Under present circumstances the police force are certainly over-extended and choices must be made as to various functions and roles of policing agencies were limited in a community and how to focus the available resources. It follows from the principle of police accountability that this should be done on the basis of community concerns and community perceptions.

Choosing priorities that relate to the real fears of the community is important in building public confidence in the police, particularly if the community is aware of such choices and the reason for them. This in turn contributes to the various areas of co-operation identified above. The approach whereby the police decide on their own where their resources should be prioritised often reinforces perceptions that the police are wasting their time on "trivial issues".

Where communities are culturally, socially and economically diverse, input into policing priorities is even more important. It also has implications for the organisation of policing which shall be examined in more detail further on. Approaches to Policing and the Community Whisenand and Ferguson 1986: Public relations is aimed primarily at informing the public and tends to be one-way communication. Public relations is often concerned with the "police image". Police-community relations is aimed at establishing a dialogue with the police.

Community policing is a broad term which involves proactive programmes designed to integrate police-community relations with actual police work. The different emphases in these different approaches to police-community interaction are reflective of different perceptions of the proper role of the police in the maintenance of social order, and of the relationship between police and specific and varied communities in society.

In order to understand the basis for the different approaches we need to briefly explore the conceptual foundations of different approaches to the police-society relationship and social order. Defining the Problem The traditional ideal that the police are the public and the public are the police is widely regarded as the underlying principle of modern policing Van Heerden 1986: Pike argues that the modern system of policing which originated with the creation of the London Metropolitan Police had as one of its central ideas the notion of "consensus".

Therefore, every member of the force must remember that it is his duty to protect and help members of the public, no less than to bring offenders to justice. Consequently, while prompt to prevent crime and arrest criminals, he must look on himself as the servant and guardian of the general public and treat all law-abiding citizens, irrespective of their race, colour or social position, with unfailing patience and courtesy.

  1. This is particularly clear in the South African context where the police are supposed to be operationally independent, but as it has also been argued in the British context. Recommendations for the improvement of police-community relations must therefore be based on a full analysis of the way in which the police-society relationship is understood.
  2. The area of police-community relations and more recently community policing has been of major concern in Europe and America for over two decades. The starting point is that society is made up of diverse communities with contrasting and often conflicting interest groups.
  3. It meant that for the majority of South Africans the police were not seen to be primarily serving the communities' needs in terms of the protection of a social order in a positive sense, but were rather regarded as repressing the aspirations of communities who wanted a greater say in the political process and for whom the law itself was discriminatory and imposed by a state power in which they had never participated. These groups differ in the degree of power which they exercise in the community - some being more marginal or "repressed" than others.
  4. The issue of who is represented on them is of great importance.

Indeed the nature and powers of modern police agencies may well be considered an anomaly with the ethos of democracy. The central point of their argument is that the police are vested with a great deal of authority and the power to deprive ordinary citizens of their freedoms within a democratic system where these very freedoms are regarded as the basic pillars of society.

Police actions invariably result in the deprivation of the rights of the suspect. The degree to which particular actions on the part of the police are acceptable depends on the communities' own values and norms.

If the police operate outside of the bounds of this "community acceptability" this invariably leads to alienation and even hostility towards the police. This has most often been the case in relation to so-called "minority" or "oppressed" communities. This is because the dominant groups in society have a different view of what is "acceptable practice" in relation to policing within a particular community to that of the policed community itself.

The dynamic and difficult tension between the principles and freedoms embodied in democracy and the nature of policing is perhaps most stark in relation to the authority of the police to use force.

The police are the only agency in society which has the legal right to use force and coercion in the performance of their duties at their own discretion. While the judiciary may impose restrictions on the rights and freedoms of individuals - such as sentences for criminal acts - it is obliged to do this within the context of the due process of law, which allows the accused the opportunity to challenge and cast various functions and roles of policing agencies were limited in a community on the state's version of what actually happened.

The police, however, can go so far as to deprive the individual of life, without the benefit of a rigorous legal procedure. It is ultimately the discretion of the individual police officer which determines whether the freedoms and rights of the individual are transgressed. Where there is discrimination in policing such as in South Africasuch freedoms are routinely transgressed within specific communities, without there necessarily being specific evidence that the individuals who suffer have committed an offence.

The nature of policing is fundamentally antagonistic to those it affects. The enormous power of the police to deprive citizens of their rights and the discretionary nature of police action means that the police tend to be alienated from the community, except where such actions of the police are seen to be of direct benefit to a specific community.

There are two possible responses to this problem. The first is what I shall call the "ideal of consensus", which is based on the implicit assumption that modern policing is conducted on the basis of consensus about the nature of the social order as well as on the way in which the society is policed.

The view of the policing role which is based on a societal consensus about law and order is perhaps the dominant view of policing in the western world. It needs to be understood because of its importance in informing the way that police-community relations are viewed in the South African context.

This vision has however been challenged by a number of writers, and is in the process of being reformulated in the light of the trend towards community policing in many parts of the world. The alternative and emergent view places a lot of emphasis on the diversity of societies and the fact that different communities do not in fact have the same ideals with regard to social order, nor are they generally concerned about the same problems.

It also recognises that historically, the police have reflected and protected the values and interests of the dominant interest groups in society. The Ideal of Consensus The dominant philosophy of policing argues that it is the notion of "policing by consent" which allows the tension between democracy and policing to be accommodated. According to this view the police are delegated authority and power from the state on the basis of a broad consensus about the nature of the social order to be policed.

The democratic process of parliamentary democracy allows citizens to express themselves on the values and norms to be protected. The fact that the police are delegated authority by society means that they are accountable to society for the use of those powers. It is thus the delegation of authority from the citizenry which underlies the police-community relationship.

Transgressions of the individual's freedom can thus only be justified within the context of public support for the methods and practice of policing.

Such support is usually held to be dependent on principles such as "proportionality" - whereby the degree of force or severity of punishment is proportional to the seriousness of the alleged offence. However, this approach views the main channel of police accountability as the state, and to the law which is generally assumed to be fair and unproblematic.

Neither politicians nor pressure groups nor anyone else may tell the police what decisions to take or what methods to employ, whether to enforce the law or not in a particular case, or how to investigate a particular offence. The exercise of police judgement has to be as independent as the exercise of professional judgement by a doctor or a lawyer.

If it is not, the way is open to manipulation and abuse of the law whether for political or for private ends …10 The major problem with this view is that "independence" tends to be assumed to lead to impartiality.

In fact independence of the police does not mean that the police are not tied to political interests.