Saluting the men and women in blue

23 January 2013

We encounter policemen and women in blue almost every day but we seldom give their presence a second thought. They are like an extended shadow that keeps watch over us wherever we may go. Without being aware of it, their presence reassures us, makes us and our loved ones feel safer.

As much as their visibility reassures us, it is often their behind-the-scenes actions which continue to ensure our safety, mostly without us even knowing it. The South African Police Service (SAPS) frequently receive anonymous tip-offs of crimes that are about to be committed and the men and women in blue do their utmost to foil them.

This is a stark reminder of the commitment and bravery of the members of our police force, who often put their lives at risk to safeguard ours. Our officers joined SAPS to serve and protect. Their commitment has led to a significant decline in, for example, the number of cash-in-transit robberies and bank robberies over the 2012 festive season.

According to statistics released by the SAPS last week, there were only two cash-in-transit and bank robberies in the country during the December holiday period. This is due to good strategic planning and close cooperation with the public. More significantly, the safe and secure festive season all South Africans enjoyed was the result of police officers sacrificing time away from their families to patrol beaches, highways, streets and shopping centres.

On Sunday we will take time out to pay tribute to those members who sacrificed their lives for the sake of securing safety for all. However, a trend which is of grave concern is the number of police officers being killed each year while on duty. It is unacceptably high and the loss to the families and the country is immeasurable. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced in November that the government was doing everything possible to protect its police officers.

He also appealed for close cooperation between the police and all sectors of society in order to tackle crime and corruption more effectively. He said communities need to report those who kill police officers and also be the eyes and ears of those who respond to crime scenes. According to the minister, most police officers are killed while responding to crimes in progress, such as armed robberies.

Police officers have nevertheless worked hard to reduce crime over time. Between the financial years 2003-04 to 2008-09, serious crime declined by 25.8% and with a further 8% between the financial years 2008-09 to 2011-12.

South African’s perceptions have caught up to this downward trend. According to the Ipsos-Markinor May 2012 Government Performance Barometer study, 45% of the respondents said that the government is doing well in reducing crime rates. Although the figure appears low, it was a mere 31% in May 2007. The same study reveals an increase in the proportion of respondents who thought the government was doing well in bringing the police closer to the community – improving from 55% in 2011 to 61% in 2012.

We need to credit the good work done by the police and refrain from treating them with contempt. It is incorrect to assume that all police officers are corrupt; the majority of them continue to do brilliant work, are 100% committed to their work and do so ethically. The government does not want corruption in the police force; it has taken a zero-tolerance stance to such incidents.

President Jacob Zuma made it quite clear when he said the government was working hard to combat corruption in the police force. We urge all South Africans to play their part and contribute to the eradication of corruption – by not offering bribes and refusing to pay them – and in particular, reporting those individuals who make themselves guilty of such conduct.

The government’s strategic objective to reduce crime is in line with the 2030 National Development Plan (NDP). One of the objectives of the NDP is: “In 2030 people living in South Africa feel safe and have no fear of crime. They feel safe at home, at school and at work, and they enjoy an active community life free of fear. Women can walk freely in the streets and the children can play safely outside.”

According to the NDP, this will be accomplished through, among others, having “a well-resourced professional institution staffed by highly skilled officers who value their work, serve the community, safeguard lives and property without discrimination, protect the peaceful against violence, and respect the rights of all to equality and justice”.

Our lives would be unimaginable without these selfless men and women who work hard to make South Africa safer. Their jobs come with huge risks which they accept; they sign up to make a difference.

As the government, we call on all South Africans to support our men and women in blue. We are immensely grateful to them and salute the invaluable role they play in our society. Similarly, we would like to thank the public at large for their continued vigilance that leads to more would-be criminals being apprehended.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)