According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate’s (Ipid) latest annual report, the cop watchdog received a total of 6 122 cases in 2020-2021.
The majority of these – 4 228 – were cases of assault.
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The 217 deaths in police custody, meanwhile, made up the fourthlargest portion. Gauteng had the highest number of deaths in police custody, with 57, and the second highest number of assault cases, with 679.
The highest number of assault cases was reported in the Western Cape, where there were 1 016.
David Bruce – an independent researcher who specialises in policing, crime and criminal justice – said this week police often responded badly to “challenges to their authority”.
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He said: “The essence of policing is… being able to establish your authority over people and obtain their cooperation.
It seems that on, perhaps a psychological level, some police just don’t cope where people don’t, in a very obvious way, subordinate themselves directly to the police authority. It’s almost like there’s a latent anxiety they’re going to lose control of the situation or not be able to manage it.
Bruce said police could be better trained and equipped with better techniques for dealing with such situations. But he also said it was unlikely it was the first time the officers implicated in Chriswell Gazu’s death, for example, had been linked to a similar “episode” – even if it was the first time someone had died.
“It’s not that the Saps is uniformly brutal. Typically, there’s a relatively small group of police officers who get the highest number of complaints,” he said.
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“So the way the Saps is failing is not that all the police are going around brutalising people, but that the system is failing to recognise these individuals are a problem and deal with them.”
Bruce said the number of deaths in police custody attributable to assault could be higher than the statistics indicated, as they were sometimes written off as the result of natural causes.
He said, in general, there wasn’t sufficient internal accountability in place with, for example, the finding in a substantial portion of cases that there wasn’t enough prima facie evidence for a case.