Criminologist study lifts lid on dirty cops

Criminologist Liza Grobler spoke about police corruption at a Milnerton CPF meeting recently.

The audience were riveted as they listened to Ms Grobler speak about dirty cops – much of the evidence documented in Crossing the Line: When cops become criminals.

Published in 2013, the book started as a PhD thesis written in 2005.

The talk was punctuated several times by gasps of horror as Ms Grobler spoke about the “confluence between corruption and criminality” and “crimes committed by criminals in uniform”.

She said: “Police officers do not only accept bribes, they also break the law in other serious ways by using excessive violence (including murder) becoming involved in drug dealing, theft and burglary, sexual harassment (of suspects and/or fellow officers) and violating individual’s rights.”

Figures from the 2015/2016 Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) annual report showed the police watchdog had logged 5 519 criminal and misconduct complaints – 98 percent involving SAPS members, the other 2 percent involving the military police. These included 3 509 assaults, 23 rapes in custody (by both SAPS members and civilians) and 112 cases of corruption.

“There is not a crime on our statute books that a corrupt cop has not or will not get involved in,” Ms Grobler said.

Ipid corruption cases she illustrated were the abuse of informer fees (7 percent), extortion or soliciting a bribe (66 percent); sale/theft or destruction of police
dockets (11 percent); and the sale or theft of evidence exhibits and confiscated goods (10 percent).

Ms Grobler interviewed several gang bosses and, addressing police criminality from the viewpoint of offenders, she revealed that both individual and organisational factors lead to the phenomenon of what she terms the “rotten apple that infects the whole barrel”.

Ms Grobler illustrated her findings with a case study she did of a police officer who operated for 11 years after being recruited into a corrupt squad.

“Rotten apples or dirty cops often continue parallel careers undetected, and, in this case, the cop developed a symbiotic relationship with other corrupt cops and gangs.

“Gang bosses pay cops huge amounts of money to keep the men in blue on their side,” she said, and, according to her case study and other research, it’s often up to the highest bidder. “When there is a hit required of an opposing gang boss, the underworld will pay SAPS big money to weed out this person,” she said.

Like dozens of countries worldwide, Ms Grobler said drugs were at the heart of corruption.

“Drugs is an incredibly lucrative business and in the shady world of corruption and staying on top, cops will be paid to shake down rival dealers; they will steal from exhibits that have been through the courts waiting to be destroyed to resell; and even replace tik with Epsom salts.”

The illicit dealing of abalone is another big business for corrupt police officials, she said. According to her research findings, corrupt cops act as couriers for the transport of abalone from point of collection to final destination; and dirty cops will often call in a fake complaint to redirect resources away from the real crime that is going on.

Ms Grobler said there were dozens of ways “rotten apples” colluded with criminals, including: selling unlicensed guns, orchestrating burglaries to steal high-demand goods for underworld customers and diverting good cops from the crimes they or their partners had a hand in.

The corrupt relationship could continue for years, Ms Grobler said, although she noted that the subject of her case study had eventually snapped: he shot and killed a colleague.

Police officers turned bad, she said, for any number of reasons: greed, substance abuse, a lack of integrity, domestic problems and post traumatic stress disorder, among them.

Poor corruption controls meant bad cops flourished, aided by the”blue code of silence” where police protected crooked colleagues rather than blow the whistle on them.

“A sense of personal power and the belief that they were invincible, that their colleagues would never ‘rat’ on them are major factors,” she said.

“Another factor was post traumatic stress disorder as traumatised SAPS members sought relief from stress in alcohol.”

Inadequate training, inexperience, managerial incompetence and poor supervision compounded the problem.

“SAPS managers don’t come out looking good when promotions are made to commissioned officers who haven’t been on the required courses. Incompetence and discipline are problems that create risk and enable corruption,” said Ms Grobler.

Part of her wish for corrupt officials to be probed was realised back in 2012 when Premier Helen Zille launched a commission of inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha, and of a breakdown in relations between the community and the police.

She felt it was a good start, but she is still pushing for a commission of inquiry with much broader scope as well as the creation of a well-resourced and independent anti-corruption unit.

Community Safety MEC Dan Plato, who spoke afterwards, acknowledged police corruption was still rife, but said many crooked officers had been caught the last couple of years.

“We do have mechanisms within Ipid, and last year the Department of Community Safety dealt with 85 cases of sloppy service. The oversight responsibility is important and we are acting against senior officers who are defeating the ends of justice and involved in money laundering.”

Mr Plato agreed with Ms Grobler about the scourge of drugs and abalone smuggling. “Cape Town is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The people involved are the top people in the underworld – they are people from all races, from all backgrounds. They play an expensive game,” he said.

Robbie Robberts, the City’s director of law enforcement urged the public to report crime. “The biggest issue is the sin of silence. Know what’s happening
in your community and talk about it. Give the information to the neighbourhood watches. Come forward as we need every bit of information for our investiga-
tions.”

* If you have any cases to report that you think reflect corruption in the police force SMS 35395.