Parliament, public misled on policing stats: report

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Anti-riot policemen arrive to quell a protest and raid a hostel in Benoni where local residents have been protesting against foreign-owned shops in the area.

JOHANNESBURG - Top government officials, including President Jacob Zuma, misconstrued data on public order policing before Parliament.

This according to a University of Johannesburg (UJ) report released on Wednesday.

The longer UJ researchers worked on the report, the "more it became clear that senior South African Police Services [SAPS] officials and government ministers misconstrued IRIS data (IRIS is the police&39;s incident registration system) and in consequence misled Parliament and the public.

"This is significant because their interpretations were central to motivations for a massive increase in expenditure on public order policing," the report states.

The research was produced by the UJ Social Change Research Unit&39;s Professor Peter Alexander, Dr Carin Runciman, and Boitumelo Maruping.

The crowd incidents are broken down into “peaceful” and “unrest”. Peaceful ones made up around 90 percent of all incidents recorded, and unrest cases the remaining 10 percent.

Alexander said crowd incidents were not necessarily protests. A high proportion of the incidents were recreational, cultural, or religious events.

The way “peaceful” and “unrest” were defined was primarily determined by the character of police intervention, and unrest should not be equated with violence.

In the report, three examples are cited where IRIS statistics were misused.

One was on September 3 last year, when national police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, the divisional commissioner for public order policing, briefed Parliament&39;s portfolio committee.

Another example arose from Zuma&39;s state of the nation address to Parliament on February 12 this year.

"We are a democratic state and recognise the community&39;s right to protest. We however appeal that these protests should be within the ambit of the law and must be peaceful as stated in the Constitution.

"The police successfully brought under control 13 575 recorded public order incidents, comprising 1 907 unrest-related incidents and 11 668 peaceful incidents," Zuma said.

Alexander said the president moved from "protests" to "incidents" without indicating that these were different.

According to the report, while police did face violence in their jobs, the worst of this was not associated with protests. The question then was why the figures would be exaggerated.

"In our view, the answer may be found less in the violence and more in the threat to established order that generals and ministers associate with popular protest," the report states.

"The effect, and possibly the intention, of the official discourse represented above is that it stigmatises protest, an important feature of a democratic society."

The presidency did not respond to questions on the report.

National police spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale said there was an obligation to police public events as per the National Sports and Recreation Act.

"The implications are that in general, all assemblies, gatherings, meetings and demonstrations, will be classified as crowd management [peaceful] incidents as we have to deploy officers from the public order policing unit. It is a specialist unit in crowd management," he said.

"The SAPS did not conflate &39;incidents&39; and &39;protests&39;. Any crowd management action is defined as an incident, which will either be peaceful or unrest.

"In other words &39;incidents&39; include all protest actions, peaceful gatherings and pure unrest incidents that cannot be justified as a crowd management incident like taxi violence, gang violence, ethnic, racial violence, demonstrations, political meetings, road barricades, revenge attacks by a small group of people."

- News24

 

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