Everything you need to know regarding the credibility of police officers, the extent of their legal powers and how to lodge a complaint against an officer.
When dealing with the police, members of the public ought to always be honest and pleasant. Although tensions and emotions might run high, a polite but firm resolution to a dispute is always more favourable and beneficial for all involved parties. It is important to remember that the police play a very important role in our society and should be respected.
The vision of the South African Police Service (SAPS) is to create a safe and secure environment everyone in South Africa.
The SAPS objectives according to the Constitution are to:
- Prevent and combat anything that may threaten the safety and security of any community;
- Investigate any crimes that threaten the safety and security of any community;
- Ensure offenders are brought to justice; and
- Participate in efforts to address the root causes of crime.
Harassment & Intimidation
A police officer may not verbally or physically abuse or intimidate a detainee. They may not make threats of violence or assault against a detainee. If they do any such action, the detainee has the right to report the incident any police station.
Note: One does not need to report it at the station of the officer in question.
Note further: If the detainee has been assaulted while being searched or detained, an action for civil damages may be claimed against the police in question and the Minister of Safety and Security.
Police brutality is when a police officer uses excessive force against a civilian. Excessive force by a law enforcement officer is a violation of the civilian's rights.
If a member of the public has been the victim of police brutality, they should:
- Seek medical treatment as soon as possible;
- Obtain video or photographic evidence of their injuries or the violent act;
- Obtain a doctor’s report;
- Get the name and rank of the police officer(s) involved;
- Go to their local police station to lay a criminal charge against the officer(s) involved or at any other police station; and
- Lodge a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). (see more under designated section)
Note: A member of the public can sue the police for monetary compensation in a civil court for any injuries experienced from police brutality.
Search & Seizure
The police are allowed to search a member of the public’s vehicle, dwelling or their person if they have a warrant or a reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed or is about to be committed by that member of the public. If there is no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the police are not allowed to search a member of the public’s vehicle, dwelling or their person without their consent
Can police keep property seized during a search?
Ordinarily, the police cannot keep property without owners consent unless obtained as a result of an arrest, under a warrant, or if the property is material evidence needed to prove a crime. If property is seized and the person is later found not guilty, the property is returned. If, however, the person is found guilty, the property is either forfeited to the state or, if it was stolen from another person, it is returned to its rightful owner.
Can police exceed their powers?
Where the police enter premises or seize goods unlawfully, it is a civil wrong. A court order can be obtained for the return of property and/or for payment of compensation. It is possible a court will allow property obtained unlawfully to be used as evidence to prove a supposed criminal offence. But the court will consider in the circumstances whether it is fair to the accused person or whether for public policy reasons the evidence should be admitted.
Note: For more information on searches see relevant section.
Entrapment is an act that takes place prior to an individual committing a crime. Police entrapment is when a police officer uses coercion or other overbearing tactics to encourage or persuade someone to commit a crime. It is important to note that it is not enough for the police officer to merely provide the opportunity for an individual to commit a crime, but to persuade them in ways which make the individual believe they will be in some sort of danger if they do not perform the criminal act.
Example of Entrapment: A drug dealer sells drugs to an undercover policeman, who denies that they are in fact a policeman. The policeman has continually pleaded with the dealer over numerous days to sell them the drugs by arguing that the drugs are for their dying mother and she needs the drugs to survive.
Example of opportunity: A drug dealer sells drugs to an undercover policeman, who denies that they are in fact a policeman and offers to pay the dealer more than the asking price for the drugs.
Note: Entrapment is a defence against criminal charges and must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the person who committed the crime.
Note further: Entrapment can only be brought up as a defence against government officials and cannot be used against private individuals.
If you are unsure about the credibility of a police officer to make sure the following are all present:
- Police officers are required to have their names displayed on their uniforms. If this is not present, you may request the officer for his or her name; and
- All official police vehicles have a code printed on the side. The letters represent the name of the station and the digits represent the squad car number. If you are being harassed, it is advisable to try to remember this code.
Police officers are meant to make you feel safe, if this is not the case adhere to the following principles to ensure your safety:
- You are within your rights to ask the police officer to accompany you to the nearest police station to conduct a search;
- A police officer has the right to ask you to step out of your vehicle and search you. However, women may request a female police officer to search them and if one is not present, the police have to call in another squad car to do the check; and
- By recording the time and location of a police interaction, the public service representative at the corresponding police station can check which officer was covering a specific area at any given time of the day.
Laying a Complaint Against the Police
If you are unhappy with the service from SAPS you can call the SAPS Service Line 0860 13 0860, toll free. Or if it is a more serious matter you want accountability for, lay a complaint to the Independent Police Investigations Directorate (IPID) who investigates any person’s complaint against both the SAPS and metro police services.
The IPID investigates the following kinds of cases:
- The involvement of any SAPS members in criminal activities such as corruption, assault, theft, robbery, rape or any other criminal offences.
- The involvement of any metro police member in criminal activities such as corruption, assault, theft, robbery, rape or any other criminal offences.
- Police conduct or behaviour that is prohibited in terms of the SAPS Standing Orders or Police Regulations, such as neglect of duties or failure to comply with the Police Code of Conduct.
- A complaint about police corruption may be lodged in person at an IPID office in any province, or by telephone, letter or email. The complaint must be submitted with the accompanying document – print it, fill it out and submit it.